Pope pleads for life of condemned Pakistani woman

Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi is seen in an undated photo handed out by family members in Punjab province on November 13, 2010. Asia Bibi, seen here in an undated family photo

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The Pope has called for the release of a Pakistani Christian woman facing the death sentence on charges of blasphemy.

Pope Benedict XVI told his weekly public audience that Christians in Pakistan "are often victims of violence and discrimination".

"I feel close to Asia Bibi and her family and I ask that she be released as soon as possible," he said.

Ms Bibi is believed to be the first woman sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy law.

The 45-year-old mother was sentenced to death on Friday by a court in the town of Nankana, about 75km (45 miles) from the city of Lahore in Punjab province.

She allegedly committed blasphemy after getting into an argument last year with a group of women in her village.

No-one has ever been executed under Pakistan's blasphemy law, but about 10 accused have been murdered before the completion of their trials, correspondents say.

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