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The killer of leading Pakistani liberal politician has appeared in court a day ahead of schedule.
The security guard accused of assassinating a leading Pakistani liberal politician appeared in court Monday, a day ahead of schedule.
The pope, meanwhile, called for Islamabad to scrap the blasphemy law that led to the slaying of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer last Monday.
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden was expected to arrive in Pakistan with assurances of greater support, including military, intelligence and economic assistance in the wake of a week of political turmoil.
In his appearance at an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, Muhammad Mumtaz Qadri confessed to killing Taseer, according to Hakim Khan, the official in charge of the police station where Qadri was being held in custody.
Although the police have sought warrants to two leaders of a madrassa, and arrested an official of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority for allegedly motivating him, Qadri said that he had acted alone in killing the politician and that he had been planning the attack before being deployed to guard him.
The authorities said they presented Qadri in court a day before his scheduled appearance because police had completed their investigation, but his defense lawyer suggested otherwise.
"Qadri was produced in the court one day before the hearing just to avoid a warm reception by the people who love him," Malik Waheed Anjum said, CNN reported.
Qadri has been hailed as a hero in some quarters for gunning down Taseer, who had spoken out against the country's strict blasphemy laws, which make it a crime punishable by death to insult Islam, the Quran or the Prophet Muhammad.
Authorities ordered Qadri to prison until his next appearance on Jan. 24.
The appearance comes a day after50,000 people staged a protest in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi against a proposed softening of the country's blasphemy laws, with some demonstrators carrying banners in support of Qadri.
Pope Benedict XVI on Monday called on Pakistan to scrap the blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults the Prophet Muhammad, saying the legislation was a pretext for "acts of injustice and violence."
"I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law," he said. "The tragic murder of the governor of Punjab shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction."
The pope, speaking at a traditional New Year's meeting with foreign ambassadors to the Vatican, said the anti-blasphemy legislation was an example of "norms prejudicing the right to religious freedom."
But Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday told reporters in the capital, Islamabad, that he had no intention of amending the law.
Gilani's announcement, after speaking to the leader of one of the country's largest religious parties, comes as U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden visits Pakistan for major meetings with government and military leaders.
In what is widely considered his most important foreign trip since he came to office, Biden will be speeding up civilian assistance to the government, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials quoted in the media.
The U.S. administration reacted with alarm when it saw people celebrate Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s murder — reinforcing the belief that Pakistan needs long-term education and development assistance in order to fight widespread extremism.
According to the Times of India, President Barack Obama directed Biden to rush to Islamabad with assurances of greater military, intelligence and economic support.
"In fact, the Obama administration is believed to have asked President Zardari to hold off his proposed visit to Washington as it attempts to shore up a national ally suffused now with an illiberal and extremist mindset that is on full display following the assassination of [Punjab Governor Salmaan] Taseer, a moderate politician," the paper's Washington correspondent reported.
Biden is also expected to offer some concessions related to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, including beefing up checkpoints on the Afghan side to stop cross-border movement into Pakistan.
And Biden is expected to promise to speed up military assistance to Pakistan’s army. In return, he is expected to repeat U.S. requests for Pakistan to go after Afghan militants based in Pakistan, specifically the Haqqani network in North Waziristan and, separately, the Taliban who attack in Kandahar and Helmand.
The officials also said Biden is expected to ask for more political courage to fix Pakistan’s struggling economy. The government, led by the Pakistan People's Party, regained its majority last week only after canceling taxes and reversing fuel price hikes. Those taxes were required by the IMF, which has given Pakistan some $11 billion to avoid defaulting.