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Khan calls for calm as protests erupt after Pakistan's blasphemy verdict

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in an address to the nation hit out at hardliners and appealed for calm Wednesday after extremists called for the country's Supreme Court justices to be murdered for overturning the conviction of a Christian woman facing execution for blasphemy.

[ISLAMABAD] Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan hit out at hardliners and appealed for calm Wednesday after extremists called for the country's Supreme Court justices to be murdered for overturning the conviction of a Christian woman facing execution for blasphemy.

"They are inciting you for their own political gain, you should not get trapped by them for the sake of the country, they are doing no service to Islam," Mr Khan said in a televised broadcast.

Asia Bibi, a mother-of-four, had been living on death row since 2010, when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws, which critics say are too harsh and often misused.

She was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. Bibi has always denied committing blasphemy.

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The case has outraged Christians worldwide - Pope Francis said he personally prayed for Bibi - and has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who headed a special three-judge bench set up for the appeal, cited the Koran in the ruling, writing that "tolerance is the basic principle of Islam" and noting the religion condemns injustice and oppression.

In overturning her conviction, the ruling said the evidence against Bibi was insufficient.

Bibi did not appear in the courtroom and her whereabouts were a closely held secret for fear of attacks on her and her family. Many have speculated they will be forced to leave the country, but there was no confirmation of their plans.

Her lawyer called the court ruling "great news" for Pakistan.

"Asia Bibi has finally been served justice," lawyer Saiful Mulook told Reuters. "Pakistan's Supreme Court must be appreciated that it upheld the law of the land and didn't succumb to any pressure."

AFP, REUTERS