A gunman assassinated the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, a senior member of the ruling party, in Islamabad on Tuesday, an aide said.
Salman Taseer was killed by one of his guards "because of his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law", Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, citing initial reports.
The law enjoys widespread support in Pakistan, which is more than 95 percent Muslim.
The killing came as Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani tried to muster support for the government after a main coalition partner quit over government fuel price policies.
A witness at the scene said Taseer, a liberal, was stepping out of his car at a shopping area when he was shot.
"The governor fell down and the man who fired at him threw down his gun and raised both hands," said the witness, Ali Imran.
Taseer had visited Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death by a lower court for violating Pakistan’s laws against blaspheming Prophet Muhammad in prison in a campaign for her release.
"I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing," Taseer wrote on his Twitter page last Friday.
Malik said the slain politician's guard, identified as Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, confessed and had been arrested but investigations would determine if others were involved.
"Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer," Qadri said in comments broadcast on Dunya television.
Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy. Most of those given the death penalty have their sentences overturned or commuted on appeal through the courts.
"Fate of govt"
Earlier, the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said it would not demand a vote of no confidence in Gilani because to do so would exacerbate instability in the South Asian nation.
That offered a reprieve but left the coalition weak.
The PML-N, believes a no-confidence vote would "damage the whole country", chairman Raja Zafar-ul-Haq told Reuters.
Sharif told a news conference he would present the government with demands such as a rollback of fuel price rises and the sacking of ministers accused of corruption, and gave the government three days to agree.
He threatened to evict members of the ruling Pakistan People's Pary (PPP) out of the Punjab provincial government, which his party dominates. Sharif suggested there may be a need for new national elections, but did not say when.
The second-biggest opposition party also said it would not push for a no-confidence vote, suggesting the opposition may prefer to wear down a weak prime minister by blocking legislation or staging protests to force an early election.
"The opposition will want this government to collapse rather then they moving against it. All opposition parties will pounce on Gilani in the parliament," said political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.
Last Mod: 04 Ocak 2011, 16:56