Gunmen kill leader of Pakistani sectarian group

LAHORE, Pakistan Fri Dec 6, 2013 9:30am EST

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LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Gunmen killed the provincial leader of a Pakistani Sunni sectarian group on Friday and police deployed to prevent more violence after the anti-Shi'ite faction called for protests.

Sectarian strife has been worsening in Pakistan, where Shi'ite Muslims make up about 20 percent of the 180 million population.

Maulana Shamsur Rehman, the Punjab leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama (ASWJ), was shot while leaving a mosque, said Mahmmed Rafiq from Shafiqabad police station.

Rehman's group was formed by members of the banned organization Sipah-e-Sahaba, which had repeatedly said it wanted to expel Shi'ites from Pakistan.

ASWJ leader Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi said in a tweet that the killing of Rehman was part of a "big plot" and that "the situation is now getting out of control." Another party official tweeted that "party workers should be ready to protest countrywide."

Around 150 protestors had gathered in the capital of Islamabad, police said, and nearby markets were closed in case of violence.

Extra police were deployed to Shi'ite mosques there and in Pakistan's financial heart of Karachi. The port city of 18 million people is plagued by sectarian violence.

Last month, a clash between a Shi'ite procession and a Sunni seminary left eight Sunnis dead in Rawalpindi and violence spread to two other cities.

More than 800 Shi'ites have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Sunni sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba was banned in 2001 under U.S. pressure. One of the group's offshoots, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claims to have carried out hundreds of killings.

(Additional reporting by Amjad Ali and Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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