- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

The United States yesterday strongly condemned the Sunday massacre of 16 Christian worshipers and a police guard in a Pakistan church, saying the perpetrators should be brought to justice quickly.
The White House also announced that President Bush will meet for the first time with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, in New York on Nov. 10, during the U.N. General Assembly debate, which was postponed from late last month after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition, the State Department announced a number of economic assistance measures worth more than $1 billion and intended to "strengthen" Pakistan, rewarding its cooperation in the U.S.-led campaign against Afghanistan's Taliban militia.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the Sunday incident "awful" and said the Pakistani authorities have increased security at churches around the country and "promised a thorough investigation."
He told reporters that "we strongly condemn the terrorist murders" in Bahawalpur, a city 300 miles south of the capital, Islamabad, in eastern Pakistan.
"We hope that the perpetrators are brought rapidly to justice," he added.
He also condemned an "apparent terrorist bombing against a bus in Quetta," a southwestern city close to the Afghan border, in which three persons were killed yesterday.
Police said they believed the bombing may have been carried out in retaliation for the U.S.-led military assault on Afghanistan.
Two weeks ago, U.S. fighters mistakenly bombed an Afghan mosque, and a number of civilian casualties have been reported on the ground.
The slaughter Sunday in St. Dominic's Catholic Church, where three bearded gunmen opened fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles, was the worst attack on Pakistan's Christian community.
"It's always been unsafe to be Christian in Pakistan," said Lydia Haines of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in London. "They have always been discriminated against and persecuted. Any voice raised against this discrimination has always been ruthlessly suppressed."
Steve Snyder of International Christian Concern, an advocacy group in the District for persecuted Christians, blamed Pakistan's "blasphemy laws" for the incident.
"The attack on the church in Bahawalpur is the result of an apartheid policy tolerated by the government of Pakistan for many years, which includes the enforcement of blasphemy laws, which have frequently been used by Muslims to settle grudges against Christians.
"Under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, anyone accused [of] speaking negatively against Islam, the Prophet Mohammed or the Koran faces execution. This kind of intolerance, in time, will only produce hatred and violence," he said.
Donna Derr of Church World Service, a relief group affiliated with the National Council of Churches, said Pakistani church leaders will discuss the situation today in an emergency meeting.
Yesterday, Mr. Boucher also announced several economic-assistance programs for Pakistan totaling more than $1 billion. They include $73 million for border-security and law-enforcement programs, as well as $95 million for assistance in "democracy, education, health, child labor elimination and counternarcotics."
Julia Duin contributed to this article.

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