ISLAMABAD: Authorities shut down streets and police marksmen stood guard around Islamabad's main church Friday for the funeral mass of minister Shahbaz Bhatti, shot dead by suspected extremists.
Police and paramilitary forces prevented vehicles from approaching the Fatima Church ahead of the ceremony for the minority affairs minister, a Roman Catholic who was shot dead in broad daylight on Wednesday.
Police officials carrying metal detectors searched people before they entered the church, an AFP correspondent said.
The coffin draped in the green and white national flag was brought in an ambulance from a local hospital for the ceremony which began around 11 AM and lasted more than one hour.
Bhatti's body will be flown by helicopter to his ancestral village Khushpur in Faisalabad district for burial later Friday.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, accompanied by some cabinet colleagues, attended the service, along with 1,000 people including close family members, government officials and diplomats.
"Today is a very sad day, I consider it a black day. We are mourning the death of Shahbaz Bhatti. Its a great loss to the nation. He was working for inter-faith harmony.
"We will do our utmost to bring the culprits to justice," Gilani said.
Speakers praised the work Bhatti had done, while a banner hung in a street on behalf of local Christians read: "We strongly condemn the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the protagonist of truth and religious harmony."
"Bhatti struggled to help the poor. All our family members will struggle to fulfil his cause," his brother Peter Bhatti said.
Gilani has announced three days of mourning in Muslim Pakistan, where Christians and other religious minorities form about three percent of the 167 million-strong population.
"The murder is unfortunate for the Christian community. It has spread insecurity," Father Rehmat Hakim, the custodian of the church, told AFP.
Bhatti, 42, who opposed Pakistan's Islamic blasphemy laws, was shot as he left his mother's home in a residential area of Islamabad. Police said the attackers fired at least 25 bullets at his vehicle.
A letter found at the scene, purportedly from supporters of al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the killing, police said.
The assassination sparked international outrage. US President Barack Obama said Bhatti's killers must be brought to justice and said he was saddened by the "horrific" attack.
Bhatti had defied death threats, conceding to AFP in January that he was "the highest target right now" but vowing to continue his work and trusting his life to God.
Bhatti, who left a chilling video prophecy of his assassination, had vowed to fight to the death in defence of Pakistan's persecuted minorities. He became the second high-profile victim among opponents of the blasphemy law.
Two months ago, Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his own police bodyguards, who cited the politician's opposition to the blasphemy law as justification for killing the "apostate".
The government has said it has no plans to revise the law.
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