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Death sentence for policeman who killed governor

A Pakistani court convicted and sentenced a police officer to death today for the killing of a liberal governor earlier this year, a murder that led to fears the country was buckling under the weight of extremism.

The January murder in broad daylight of Punjab provincial governor, Salman Taseer, by one of his police guards was alarming in itself, but what came afterward perhaps even more so: lawyers showered his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, with flowers, thousands demonstrated in his defence and even mainstream politicians didn't loudly condemn the killing.

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

Qadri was convicted and sentenced in an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi close to the capital Islamabad, said three officials at the jail. The trial, which began a month after the killing in January, was held in a prison and was closed to the media.

Under Pakistan law, Qadri can appeal. Death sentences have been rarely carried out in Pakistan in recent years.

Pakistan, whose 180 million people are almost 95 per cent Muslim, has seen an alarming spread in violent Islamist extremism since 2007. It has been very hard to counter because many of the groups - and the extremist ideology they spread - once enjoyed or continue to have state backing in some form or other.

The security forces have fought back, but thousands of government officials, Christians, Shi'ites and scores of police and soldiers have been killed in assassinations and suicide bombings.

Mr Taseer was one of few Pakistani officials to consistently oppose extremism.

Members of his family have continued speaking out against militancy, and in August, Mr Taseer's adult son was abducted from his car in the eastern city of Lahore. The son's fate remains unknown and militants are considered likely suspects in that abduction. AP