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'Foreigners may be directly targeted', UK gov warns against travel to Pakistan following Asia Bibi release

Wed 31 Oct 2018
By Marcus Jones

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised Brits against all travel to several areas of Pakistan following the release of Asia Bibi.

Pakistan's top court has acquitted the Christian woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 on blasphemy charges, a landmark ruling that could ignite mass protests or violence by hard-line Islamists.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar announced the verdict to a packed courtroom and ordered Asia Bibi released. She had been held at an undisclosed location for security reasons and is expected to leave the country.

 

While authorities have stepped up security at churches across the country, protests have already begun.

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Shortly after the ruling, hundreds of Islamists blocked a key road linking the city of Rawalpindi with the capital, Islamabad.

Islamists in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi and in the north-western city of Peshawar were also gathering for the protests. Similar rallies were held elsewhere. Police urged demonstrators to disperse peacefully.

Paramilitary troops were deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court, where security for the judges was beefed up.

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In advice on the Foreign Office website, it states: "Protests can occur with little warning and can turn violent quickly. You should avoid demonstrations, large crowds of people and public events.

"Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Pakistan. There's a high threat of terrorism, kidnap and sectarian violence throughout the country, including the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. You should be vigilant, avoid all crowds, public events, political gatherings, religious processions and sporting events, and take appropriate security precautions.

"Foreigners, in particular westerners, may be directly targeted. Densely populated unsecured areas, such as markets, shopping malls, restaurants and places where westerners and the Pakistani elite are known to congregate, are potential focal points for attacks. You should be extra vigilant at all times and minimize your exposure to areas that pose a higher risk."

It's claimed 270,000 Brits travel to Pakistan every year.

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