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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has suspended the execution of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.

Asia Bibi, who has been on death row for nearly five years, was given leave to appeal. No hearing date was set.

She denies insulting the Prophet Mohammed, saying her Muslim accusers were acting on a personal grudge.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan – critics argue laws are frequently misused to settle personal scores, often targeting minorities.

This is the first time in the case that there has been a glimmer of hope for Asia Bibi.

She was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and her case is one of the most controversial in Pakistan.Asia Bibi death sentence Pakistan

Thousands have protested against her and said they would kill her if she were ever released – including the imam in her own village. Her husband and four daughters live in hiding and say they have received many death threats.

Asia Bibi’s death sentence had been confirmed by the High Court in Punjab province in October, although no date was set.

However, on July 22, the Supreme Court suspended the sentence until the end of the appeal process.

“The execution of Asia Bibi has been suspended and will remain suspended until the decision of this appeal,” her lawyer told reporters outside the court.

He said key witnesses had failed to turn up during hearings by the High Court.

Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy but some people accused of the offence in the past have been lynched by crowds. Lawyers, judges and those seeking to reform the blasphemy laws have also been threatened, attacked or even killed.

Since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran or for blasphemy.

While most of them have been sentenced to death by the lower courts, many sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence.

Muslims constitute a majority of those prosecuted, followed by minority Ahmadis.

Libya has made several arrests in connection with the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.

New Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shaqur said the investigation was making progress.

The attack happened on Tuesday during protests over a US-made film that mocks the Prophet Mohammed.

Similar protests have spread across the Middle East and North Africa. Further unrest is expected at Friday prayers.

Clashes between riot police and protesters continued overnight in the Egyptian capital Cairo, where Islamist groups and others have called for a peaceful “million-man march” later on Friday.

US President Barack Obama has promised to do whatever is necessary to protect US citizens abroad and said he was urging foreign governments to guarantee their security.

A White House statement said he had thanked Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi for condemning an attack on the US embassy there and for launching an investigation.

“President Obama expressed appreciation for the co-operation we have received from the Yemeni government and underscored the importance of working together to ensure the security of US personnel,” the statement said.

Libya has made several arrests in connection with the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi

Libya has made several arrests in connection with the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi

In Benghazi, US and Libyan officials are investigating the possibility that heavily armed militants used the protest as a pretext for a co-ordinated assault.

Libyan officials say those arrested are being interrogated on suspicion of having instigated the attack.

Four embassy staff died, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

PM Mustafa Abu Shaqur blamed the attack on “criminals” and said anger against the film could not justify it.

“The people, they don’t understand that such a case like this, the American government has nothing to do with it,” he said.

“Somebody made a film and they put it on YouTube. It was very offensive for sure but that doesn’t justify taking this wild actions against Americans or American embassies. People can come out and demonstrate and express their opinion peacefully.”

Following the attack, some Libyans have taken part in rallies in Benghazi and Tripoli denouncing the violence.

Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif told reporters that those arrested had been taken from their homes on Thursday but gave no further details.

No group has said it carried out the attack and Wanis al-Sharif said it was too early to say if those arrested belonged to a particular organization.

Meanwhile, further protests against the US-made film are expected on Friday.

In Yemen, demonstrators briefly stormed the grounds of the US embassy in Sanaa on Thursday and burnt the US flag before being driven back by security forces.

A White House spokesman said all those working in the embassy were safe and accounted for.

In Egypt, 224 people were injured in protests outside the US embassy in Cairo on Thursday, with some demonstrators demanding the expulsion of the ambassador. Police vehicles were set alight.

Egyptian media said that as night fell on Thursday, police were continuing to fire tear gas at stone-throwing protesters.

Calls for a million-man march in Cairo came from The Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist al-Nour party and non-religious groups including the “Ultra” fans of Zamalek football club.

They said they had invited Muslims, Coptic Christians and all Egyptian citizens to join them.

President Mohammed Mursi said Egyptians rejected “any kind of assault or insult” against the Prophet Muhammad, but appealed for calm.

Small protests have also been reported in Bangladesh, Iraq, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia, and security has been increased at US embassies and consulates around the world.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the film, entitled Innocence of Muslims, as “disgusting” and “reprehensible” but said it was no excuse for violence.

The film was shot in the US and posted online earlier this year. It depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and the bloodthirsty leader of a ragtag group of men who enjoy killing.

However, the film’s exact origin and the motivation behind its production remain a mystery.

Some of the actors involved have since condemned the film, saying they had no idea it was to be used as anti-Islam propaganda.

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Violent protests were sweeping across the Muslim world following the bloody attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, as U.S. officials say they are sending warships to the coast of the volatile country in an apparent terrorist hunt.

Two marines and a communications officer were also killed dead in the strike in the city of Benghazi.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. officials said one destroyer, the USS Laboon, moved to a position off the coast of Libya, and the USS McFaul is en route and should be stationed off the coast within days.

The officials say the ships, which carry Tomahawk missiles, do not have a specific mission. But they give commanders flexibility to respond to any mission ordered by the president.

The destroyers have crews totaling about 300. There have been four destroyers in the Mediterranean for some time. These moves will increase that to five.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss troop movements.

Palestinians burn a US flag during a protest against the movie, Innocence of Muslims, near the UN office in Gaza City

Palestinians burn a US flag during a protest against the movie, Innocence of Muslims, near the UN office in Gaza City

But as tensions rise outside Libya, the response to a film produced in the U.S. that depicts Prophet Mohammed is sending shockwaves through the Muslim world.

In Cairo, protests continued into early Thursday morning near Tahrir Square, the site of Egypt’s massive uprising last year.

With further street violence and demonstrations expected across the Middle East, Britain, the U.S. and their European allies stepped-up security at their embassies and consulates.

On Wednesday night, there were protests outside U.S. diplomatic buildings in countries including Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco and Egypt.

In Tunis, the Tunisian capital, police fired teargas and rubber bullets into the air to disperse a protest.

Around 200 protesters, many of whom had long beards, burned U.S. flags and chanted slogans such as “Obama, Obama, we are here for the triumph of Islam”.

It is believed that the attacks were part of a coordinated ambush by terrorists using a pro-Islam protest as cover.

The victims died during a rocket attack when an armed mob set fire to the consulate in Benghazi after joining a protest over a “blasphemous” film about the Prophet Mohammed.

It was also revealed on Wednesday that Ambassador Christopher Stevens and information technology specialist Sean Smith were killed during an attempt by U.S. forces to evacuate staff from a safe house, Libya’s Deputy Interior Minister Wanis Al-Sharif said.

U.S. consular staff was moved to the safe house after an attack on the consul building in the eastern city of Benghazi in which the ambassador was killed, minister Wanis Al-Sharif told a news conference.

A plane with U.S. security units arrived from Tripoli to evacuate other staff but militants discovered the location of the safe house, he said.

“It was supposed to be a secret place and we were surprised the armed groups knew about it. There was shooting,” he said.

Two American security personnel were killed in the shooting, Wanis Al-Sharif said. Two other people were killed and between 12 and 17 wounded.

It is believed a “small, vicious group” of attackers used the protest as a diversion, although questions remain over whether the killers drummed up support for the march or simply took advantage of it, an official told CNN.

While it is not known exactly who was responsible for the rampage, a London think tank with strong ties to Libya said Christopher Stevens, who is not believed to have been targeted, could have been the victim of a revenge attack by al Qaeda.

U.S. officials, describing their preliminary understanding of the incident, told Reuters that the attack began at roughly 10:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday, with Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith and one security officer trapped under fire in the burning consulate building.

“They became separated from each other due to the heavy dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building,” one senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The security officer made it outside, and returned with help to search for the missing U.S. diplomatic personnel.

The assault “came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second in command killed a few months ago” in Pakistan, think tank Quilliam told CNN, noting the rocket-propelled grenade launchers used in the attack do not normally appear at peaceful protests.

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