Washington, March 3 - US President Barack Obama condemned the murder Wednesday of Pakistan's only Christian cabinet minister and praised him for courageously challenging the country's blasphemy laws.
"I am deeply saddened by the assassination of Pakistan's Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti today in Islamabad, and condemn in the strongest possible terms this horrific act of violence," Obama said in a statement.
Bhatti was gunned down outside his parent's home in Islamabad. He had opposed blasphemy laws that call for the death penalty for making derogatory remarks about the prophet Mohammad or the Quran.
"He most courageously challenged the blasphemy laws of Pakistan under which individuals have been prosecuted for speaking their minds or practising their own faiths," Obama said.
Bhatti's killing followed the January slaying of Punjab's governor, who had also criticised the blasphemy laws.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was "shocked and outraged by the assassination" and warned of growing intolerance for religious minorities.
"The intolerance toward minorities, particularly religious minorities, that we are seeing not only in Pakistan but elsewhere in the region ... is a matter of deep distress to me personally and to our government," Clinton said. (dpa)