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“This case is obviously deeply disturbing, We think that the president’s statement is very welcome, and we urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. — Photo by Reuters

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday called the arrest of a young Pakistani girl on blasphemy charges “deeply disturbing” and welcomed action by President Asif Ali Zardari to probe the case.

Rifta, a Christian between 10 and 13 years old  is reported to have Down’s Syndrome, was taken into custody after furious Muslims demanded she be punished for allegedly burning pages with verses from the Quran.

“This case is obviously deeply disturbing,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“We think that the president’s statement is very welcome, and we urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls,” Nuland said.

Nuland called on Pakistan to conduct the investigation “in a transparent way.”

Zardari took “serious note” of the girl's arrest and called on the interior ministry to submit a report on the case, state media said.

His action came after strong concern in the West over religious intolerance in Pakistan following the assassinations last year of a leading politician and a Christian cabinet minister who spoke out against the blasphemy law.

Human rights activists say Pakistan’s strict laws against blasphemy are often used to settle petty disputes, with minorities the frequent target.

Some reports said that the girl, who came from a low-income area of the capital Islamabad, had been burning papers collected from a garbage pile for cooking when she was accused of desecrating pages inscribed with verses from the Quran.

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