President weighs pardon for Christian
Pakistan's president may pardon a Christian woman facing a death sentence for blasphemy against Islam, officials said Saturday, as the mother of five tearfully denied the charge in a televised prison interview.
The case of Asia Bibi, 45, has drawn appeals from Pope Benedict XVI and human rights groups to free her. She has been in prison for the past 18 months and was sentenced to death Nov. 8.
According to her husband, Bibi had gotten into an argument with a group of Muslim women in their Punjab village in June 2009 after the women refused to drink from the same water bowl as a Christian. The women told the local imam that Bibi had insulted the prophet Muhammad. The imam told police, and she was arrested.
"It was just the outcome of a rivalry. I would never even think of blasphemy," Bibi said Saturday. "I have small children. For God's sake, please set me free."
The verdict has drawn attention to Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which critics say are used to persecute Christian and other minorities and fan extremism. They are also often exploited to settle personal grudges.
Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for minority affairs, said Saturday that President Asif Ali Zardari has asked for a report on the case, noting that Zardari has the power to pardon her even ahead of a judicial appeal.
- Associated Press
Tobacco summit backs flavor curbs
In a major blow to the tobacco industry, public health officials from around the world agreed Saturday to recommend restricting or banning flavor additives that make the taste of cigarettes more palatable to new smokers.
Delegates from 172 countries that have signed on to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty also agreed to recommend that tobacco producers be required to disclose their ingredients to health authorities.
The tobacco industry lobbied hard against the guidelines, saying that millions of jobs would be lost and economies ruined if countries follow through.
Developing detailed guidelines for how governments should regulate aromatic and flavor additives for cigarettes has been a major goal since the treaty went into effect five years ago.
The United States, which has signed but not ratified the convention, is among the countries that already regulate these additives.