LAHORE - Scores of houses in a mostly Christian neighbourhood were torched and several shops ransacked on Saturday over an alleged blasphemy charge as thousands stormed Joseph Colony in the Badami Bagh area.

Police estimated more than 10,000 protesters attacked the neighborhood, where less than 200 cops were deputed.

The police took into custody, on Friday, a 28-year-old sanitary worker, Sawan Masih, after an altercation with his Muslim barber friend led to the latter hurling a charge of alleged blasphemous remarks uttered. Despite Sawan being retained in custody by the police for investigation, the area was recommended to be cleared of residents after police continued to sense trouble makers stirring unrest. These fears were realised when angry protesters began to converge in the colony on Saturday morning and later set ablaze the homes, shops and even motorcycles and bicycles standing in the alleys around the area.

Police used batons to disperse the mob, trigging violent clashes that resulted in injuries to over 20 cops. Protests erupted across the country against the unwarranted attack against Badami Bagh residents, hundreds of whom are homeless and frightened to return to their homes. The HRCP criticised the provincial government saying ‘it totally failed’ in providing protection to the besieged community. President Zardari, PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif strongly condemning the incident.

A report said 159 houses and 18 shops were damaged in the violent incident.