Imran Khan calls for calm as protests erupt after blasphemy verdict

Bibi has been on death row since 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam

A Catholic woman who was held in prison for eight years in Pakistan and sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy, reputedly because an argument sprang up after she drank from a cup that her Muslim neighbors wanted to use, was finally acquitted by a Pakistani court, but her life is in jeopardy from the hardline Islamists who want her dead.

Wednesday's ruling sparked numerous protests nearly immediately. This is the biggest and happiest day of my life.' Malook has faced death threats since acting for the prosecution following the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer - an opponent of the blasphemy law.

"I can't believe what I am hearing. Will they let me out, really?" she said.

The party also called for the ouster of the government of new Prime Minister Imran Khan. The judges were defying personal death threats and the promise by an Islamist political party to "paralyse the country within hours" if Bibi was set free. Some schools announced they were closing early.

Bibi has always denied blaspheming. He urged his followers to "be prepared for any sacrifice if Asia Bibi is acquitted".

Security was tight in capital Islamabad where paramilitary forces were deployed to protect the Supreme Court and others sensitive areas. Her treatment became a cause for religious rights groups in Pakistan and the West, which saw her acquittal Wednesday as a victory. A mob later came after Bibi, accusing her of insulting the prophet, and she was beaten up in her home. In Islamabad and Lahore, protesters attacked media and police, smashing cameras and cars.

Many parts of Karachi were paralysed due to the protests and most of the main roads were shut down by the protesters who are burning tyres and pelting stones at vehicles.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose TLP won a sizable chunk of votes in Pakistan's general elections in July, staged a protest with hundreds of supporters in Lahore, in front of the provincial legislature. Addressing the crowd, another leader of the group, Pir Mohammad Afzal Qadri, issued an edict that all three Supreme Court judges who passed the verdict should be killed.

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Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan appealed to the public to remain calm.

The surprise ruling is likely to intensify months of intermittent conflict between the anti-blasphemy movement and civilian authorities, who were forced to back down late previous year when the group staged a weeks-long protest that blocked the major highway between Islamabad and nearby Rawalpindi.

Bibi's representatives have claimed she was involved in a dispute with her neighbours and that her accusers had contradicted themselves.

She offered to fetch it and bring it to them.

She was convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the Lahore High Court upholding her conviction four years later.

Her case drew the attention of global rights groups and swiftly became the most high-profile in the country.

Pakistani police officers stand guard outside the supreme court in Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 31, 2018.

Bibi's lawyer Saiful Malook told news agency AFP: 'The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings. "The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country's most vulnerable minorities". The Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal in 2015.

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