Pakistan politician killed for opposing blasphemy law


[Breaking news update: Pakistan's main opposition leader has given the government a three-day deadline to accept a list of demands to avert its collapse, the Associated Press reports. Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, says the government must reverse recent fuel price hikes, cut government expenditures by 30 percent and implement a series of court verdicts against ruling party officials for corruption. Sharif said that if the government fails to accept his group's demands within 72 hours, it will join other opposition parties in moving against the government.]

One of Pakistan's most important politicians was assassinated Tuesday by a bodyguard angered by his outspoken opposition to the country's blasphemy law.

The country is already facing a political crisis, as the government struggles to hold on to power after a key coalition partner quit the government Monday.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous and powerful province, Punjab, was gunned down at a shopping center in the nation's capital, Islamabad.

Taseer was an outspoken critic of religious extremists and recently drew anger from Islamists for his opposition to blasphemy laws that led to a Christian woman being sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

"[His security guard] confessed that he killed the governor himself because he had called the blasphemy law a black law," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters.

According to the Washington post, a Pakistani news station quoted a witness who said he saw a security guard get out of Taseer's vehicle, raise a kalashnikov rifle and fire through the window of the vehicle.

Taseer was shot multiple times at the shopping plaza, which is near his home in Islamabad and is frequented by foreigners.

Taseer was close ally of Asif Ali Zardari, the president, and his killing immediately raised questions over the future of his already troubled presidency.

On Sunday, a key ally of Zardari's Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), of which Taseer was also an influential leader, left the ruling coalition in a dispute over petrol price increases.

The defection of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), second-largest party in Pakistan's ruling coalition, means Pakistan's government has lost its parliamentary majority.

Pakistan's prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is holding talks with opposition leaders in a bid to prevent a possible no-confidence vote and head off an early election.

The killing of Taseer the second major political assassination in recent years, following the killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's wife, in 2007. Her death sent the nation into convulsions and sparked a wave of sympathy that political experts believe helped the PPP ascend to power in the 2008 elections.