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Pakistani girl with Down syndrome reportedly arrested for blasphemy

Pakistani police arrested a Christian girl with Down syndrome on charges of blasphemy after she allegedly burned pages inscribed with verses from the Muslim holy book, local media reported.

The move prompted President Asif Ali Zardari to call police on Monday to ask for an explanation for the arrest,  Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported.

The girl, Rimsha, was arrested in a poor Christian area of the capital Islamabad on Thursday and was remanded in custody for 14 days after a furious mob demanded she be punished, according to the newspaper.

According to Dawn, some local reports suggested Rimsha had been burning papers gathered from a garbage dump for cooking when someone accused the family of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran.

"We had to register the case fairly quickly to prevent any unpleasant situation," the official told AFP,  referring to Muslim demonstrations.

Pakistani gets death for liberal governor's murder

Christians fled the neighborhood after Muslim anger over the alleged incident, Dawn reported.

"These Christians had sought shelter with their relatives in other parts of the city but now they are gradually returning to Mehrabad," the AFP quoted a senior official of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, as saying.

According to AFP news service, a police official speaking on condition of anonymity said Rimsha was in her teens. Activists, meanwhile, said she was 11 years old.

Zardari took "serious note" of Rimsha's detention, and called on the interior ministry to submit a report on the case, Dawn reported.

Growing intolerance
Pakistan, whose 180 million people are almost 95 percent Muslim, has seen an alarming spread in violent Islamist extremism since 2007.

Liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the blasphemy law is discriminatory against the country's tiny minority groups, and its vague terminology has led to misuse.

Christian woman faces death for insulting Islam

Zardari's government has been heavily criticized for not reforming the country's anti-blasphemy laws, despite the assassinations of a leading politician who was outspoken in his support of religious tolerance and a Christian cabinet minister in 2011.

The January 2011, Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer was murdered in broad daylight by one of his police guards.  The guard, Mumtaz Qadri, was subsequently showered with flowers, thousands demonstrated in his defense and even mainstream politicians didn't loudly condemn the killing.

Qadri told his trial that Taseer deserved to die because of his criticism of Pakistani laws that mandate the death sentence for insulting Islam.

Slideshow: Pakistan: A nation in turmoil 

Taseer, a member of the country's ruling party, wanted amendments in the law and had defended a Christian woman sentenced to death under it.

And in March 2011, militants gunned down the only Christian in Pakistan's government outside his widowed mother's home.  The 42-year-old Roman Catholic had said he was "ready to die" for the country's often persecuted Christian and other non-Muslim minorities.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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