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Muslim "fanatic" kills Pakistani woman minister

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suspected Islamist zealot shot dead a Pakistani woman provincial government minister on Tuesday because he believed women should not be in politics, officials said.

Pakistan's provincial government minister Zil-e-Huma speaks at a function in this January 9, 2007 file photo. A suspected Islamist zealot opposed to women in politics shot dead Zil-e-Huma at a political meeting on February 20, 2007, officials said. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/Files

Zil-e-Huma, social welfare minister of the Punjab government, a women’s activist and supporter of President Pervez Musharraf, was about to give a speech to dozens of people when the lone attacker shot her in the head. She died later in hospital.

The gunman, identified as Mohammad Sarwar, was immediately arrested.

Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat told Reuters the gunman had been implicated in six previous murder cases but had never been convicted because of a lack of evidence.

“He is basically a fanatic,” Basharat said. “He is against the involvement of women in politics and government affairs.”

The shooting occurred at Huma’s party office in the town of Gujranwala, 70 km (43 miles) north of the provincial capital, Lahore.

“He considers it contrary to the teachings of Allah for a woman to become a minister or a ruler. That’s why he committed this action,” the police said in a statement.

Huma, 37, was married with two sons. Her husband is a doctor. She also ran a small fashion design business in Gujranwala.

Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, promotes a vision of “enlightened moderation” for the predominantly Muslim country of 160 million people and has vowed to empower women.

Women make up just over 20 percent of the lower house of parliament, according to the country’s main human rights group, and there are three women ministers in the cabinet of the federal government.

But women still face widespread violence and discrimination in a male-dominated society, particularly in the countryside, where most Pakistanis live.

Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Kamran Haider