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Published: Thursday April 10, 2014 MYT 9:55:05 PM
Updated: Thursday April 10, 2014 MYT 9:55:05 PM

Pakistani leader of banned sectarian group gets parliament seat

Radical Sunni cleric Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi (C) addresses his supporters during his election campaign in Jhang, Punjab province April 16, 2013. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Radical Sunni cleric Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi (C) addresses his supporters during his election campaign in Jhang, Punjab province April 16, 2013. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's Election Commission has awarded a parliamentary seat to the leader of a banned sectarian group that activists blame for the deaths of hundreds of people.

Ahmed Ludhianvi will represent the city of Jhang, in Punjab province, the commission ruled.

He came second in the constituency in a general election in May last year but was awarded the seat after the commission ruled that the candidate who came first had been involved in vote rigging and had defaulted on a loan, the commission said in a statement on its website.

Ludhianvi declined to comment on the commission's Wednesday ruling.

He has previously denounced Shi'ite Muslims, who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan's population, but has insisted he does not incite violence.

Activists worry that Ludhianvi's appointment will provide political cover for violent activists from the majority Sunni Muslim community and fuel creeping militancy in Punjab, Pakistan's biggest and wealthiest province and the power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of clerical umbrella group the All Pakistan Ulema Council, told Reuters that he was worried about Ludhianvi's sectarian agenda.

"He ran an election campaign on his anti-Shi'ite agenda, it is not possible that he won't bring it into the Assembly. He will want to use parliament to declare all Shi'ites as heretics," Ashrafi warned.

Ludhianvi was a leader in Sipah-e-Sahaba, a sectarian Sunni group that emerged in Jhang in the mid-1980s with the support of Pakistani intelligence agencies, which fostered militants partly to help battle Soviet invaders in neighbouring Afghanistan, before being banned in 2002.

The group reinvented itself as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, which was banned in 2012. Ludhianvi's Twitter account describes him as patron-in-chief of ASWJ.

The group's offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has evolved into one of Pakistan's most feared militant groups. It has claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed hundreds of Shi'ites.

The legislator ousted from the Jhang seat, Sheikh Muhammad Akram, denied the Election Commission's accusations and said he intended to appeal.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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