Islamabad: The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, a vocal critic of militancy in Pakistan and a confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, was shot dead by his security guard in the capital yesterday, Interior Minister Rahman Malek said, as the government faced a 72-hour deadline to avert its collapse.
It was the most high-profile political killing in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Dec-ember 2007.
After news of the killing spread, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appealed to PPP workers and supporters to remain calm and allow time for a proper investigation.
He announced three days of national mourning with flags at half-mast.
Nevertheless, dozens of PPP supporters took to the streets in Lahore, burning tyres and blocking traffic in protest, witnesses said.
Taseer was one of the most moderate voices in the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and personified the liberal elite. His stance against extremism appears to have cost him his life.
Taseer sustained bullet injuries in the face and chest, according to police sources. He died in the hospital.
Taseer's guard identified as Malek Mumtaz Hussain Qadri confessed that he killed the governor because of his statement terming the blasphemy law a "black law".
Qadri surrendered to security forces after shooting the governor.
The assassination came as Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif was addressing a news conference in the capital on his party's position on the political crisis created by the withdrawal of two partners from the ruling coalition.
Sharif yesterday gave Gilani a three-day deadline to accept a list of demands if he wanted to save his government.
The party later relaxed the deadline to begin after the three-day mourning for the governor.
The ultimatum could determine the government's fate since Sharif's party has the second-highest number of seats in the National Assembly and is key to moving a no-confidence vote against Gilani possibly leading to early elections.
Sharif said the government must reverse the fuel price hikes, cut government expenditures by 30 per cent and implement a series of court verdicts against ruling party officials for corruption.
He added that the government must accept the demands within 72 hours and show progress within 45 days.
According to the interior minister, Taseer was shot as he stepped out of a cafe in the capital's Kohsar Market after having lunch with friends. Taseer had earlier visited President House and met Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira at Parliament House.
PPP provincial minister Raja Riaz said the governor's body was expected to be brought to Lahore later yesterday after a post-mortem. A funeral date will be announced on Wednesday.