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In Pakistan, attacked Christians take refuge with their Muslim neighbors

A resident of the Christian neighborhood of Jaranwala in eastern Pakistan, Pastor Javed Bhatti was awakened from his sleep by the loudspeaker of the mosque urging him to demonstrate against alleged blasphemy committed by his community. Instinctively, he gathered his family and rushed into the street, where other Christians had fled to escape reprisals. “Some were running barefoot and others were fleeing in rickshaws. It was chaos everywhere,” Javed Bhatti told AFP on Thursday, the day after the violence. and a vandalized Christian cemetery. A dozen homes and shops were burned and ransacked, according to an AFP team on the spot. The assault was triggered when a group of religious fanatics accused a family of of having blasphemed against the holy text of Islam.  “Photos and videos of burned pages of the Koran were shared among residents, which caused an outcry”, explained Wednesday Rana Imran Jamil, spokesperson of the city’s emergency services. The children were shouting “run, run, the religious are coming. They are going to attack us,” says Javed’s sister, Naila Bhatti. Blasphemy is a big issue in Pakistan, where vigilante groups have killed people accused of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad . Christians make up about 2% of the country’s population and are at the very bottom of the social scale.In Jaranwala live some 5,000 of them.As panic spread in the neighborhood, Muslims also rushed in the streets to warn and shelter their Christian neighbours. “The crowd came from outside (the neighborhood), but the local Muslims helped us and tried to save us,” says Pastor Bhatti. Tariq Rasool, another resident, says Muslims were also quick to pin verses from the Koran on the doors of Christian homes in the hope of sheltering them from the violence they knew was imminent. – “I told them opened the door” -“Two women were running. I opened the door to my house for them and let them in. They were very worried, but I reassured them,” the 58-year-old Muslim told AFP. up to several hundred people at the height of the riots. Imran Qadri, who is a Muslim, also opened his house to two Christian women. “They are still inside our house. My family helped them, provided them with food and they spent the night with us”, he explains to AFP. Parveen Bibi had to escape with the eight members of his family after being woken up by the cries of his young children screaming “Muslims are coming to burn our houses”. “We took rickshaws to our Muslim neighbours. The door was open and we all entered”, continues in tears Parveen who was accompanied in particular by her two daughters-in-law and her children. “+ You are safe here, do not worry +”, replied his hosts, she said standing amid the rubble of her home. Several Christians who returned to their homes on Thursday to assess the damage told AFP that more than 300 people had fled in the first hours, but that hundreds others had been evacuated overnight and on Thursday to take refuge with relatives in other towns. Police have arrested more than 100 people linked to the violence and are looking for two Christian brothers accused of having desecrated the Koran.  Although the violence has stopped and hundreds of police have been deployed to monitor the area, many are too scared to return home. When Pastor Javed Bhatti returned to his area, the pain was even greater. “My own house was destroyed. It was the income of a lifetime. Now, how are we going to settle in these houses again?”, he asks in anguish. sjc-ecl/est/lch

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