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Monday, December 22, 2008

Pakistani Prime Minister announces increase in provincial, national assembly minority seats, at historic ceremony held to celebrate Christmas

By Sheraz Khurram Khan
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Addressing a ceremony at the Pakistan National Council Auditorium in Islamabad which was staged by the Ministry of Minorities Affairs the Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani on December 16 made some historic announcements for the people of minorities including an increase in minority seats in all the four provincial assemblies.

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Kalyan Singh and Bishop of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Rt. Rev. Anthony Lobo, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, along with other dignitaries at historic ceremony held to celebrate Christmas

He also stated also that in the National Assembly, minorities’ representation would increase in the Senate, as well as an Observance on August 11 every year as “Minority Day” and Celebration of religious festivals of Pakistani religious minorities at the official level.

The Prime Minister received a rapturous applause from minority participants at the ceremony when they heard the news.

This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that government of Pakistan has officially celebrated Christmas season. The government will also host functions to celebrate some 10 Religious festivals of the religious minorities of Pakistan.

The minority people had come from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and various religious faiths.

Pakistani PM Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani addressing the Christmas ceremony

It merits mentioning here that soon after taking the office of National Assembly, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti had submitted a bill in the National Assembly Secretariat that urged the government to increase minorities’ seats in the four provincial assemblies as well as in the national assembly. Mr. Bhatti has also been striving for minorities’ representation in Senate, the upper house of Pakistan Parliament.

Praising Mr. Shahbaz’ heading of ministry of Minorities, the Prime Minister called Mr. Shahbaz an “energetic leader”.

Mr. Shahbaz thanked the Prime Minister for gracing the event. “Christmas is an occasion to bring down walls of pride, prejudice, hatred and intolerance and plant love in each other's hearts," he said.

Earlier, the Bishop of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Anthony Lobo, Bishop of Church of Pakistan, Rt. Rev Bishop Alexander John Malik addressed the participants of the ceremony. Before giving their Christmas messages they lauded Shahbaz Bhatti for his commitment to the cause of the oppressed and down-trodden in Pakistan.

“I have known Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti for several years. He has done a lot for minorities”, said the Catholic Bishop. He also thanked Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani for naming Mr. Shahbaz as a Federal Minister for Minorities.

Participants of the meeting gave an ear-splitting applause as Bishop Lobo mentioned Mr. Shahbaz’s name.

The Bishop of the Church of Pakistan, Alexander John Malik also hailed government for installing Mr. Shahbaz as a Federal Minister for Minorities. He said the Church of Pakistan had unanimously passed a resolution in November that backed government’s decision to induct Mr. Shahbaz as a Federal Minister. He said a copy of the resolution would be dispatched to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

Students of the Presentation Convent School, Rawalpindi, singing Christmas carols

Representatives of different religions and ethnicities also addressed the meeting. Those who spoke on the occasion included Ms. Lakshman bibi, a representative of the people of the valley of Kalash, Mahesh Milani, a representative of Hindu community, who also is a member of the National Assembly, Mr. Kalyan Singh of the Sikh community and Kamran Karimian of the Baha'i community.

The Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Mr. Allama Hamid Kazmi hailed Mr. Shahbaz and Ministry of Minorities for celebrating Christmas at the official level.

Earlier, female students of a renowned Catholic School, sang carols. Then the Prime Minister presented a check for Rs. 50,000 ($634.518 USD) to Julie Watson, the Principal of the Presentation Convent.

The Ministry of Minorities also hosted a dinner for participants at the ceremony.

Sheraz Khurram Khan has been reporting from Pakistan for ASSIST News Service on Christian persecution and minorities' situation since 2005. He is also a representative of the International Press Association (IPA), USA.

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