Shias take to streets; demand protection
* Refuse to bury the dead until a targeted operation is launched
QUETTA: Thousands of Shias refused for a second day Monday to bury victims of a devastating bomb attack on their community, demanding protection against record levels of sectarian violence.
Demonstrators poured onto the streets across the country, shutting down Karachi and closing the road to Islamabad airport, in angry protest at Saturday’s bombing that killed at least 89 people in Quetta.
Two girls aged seven and nine were among the dead after the bomb, nearly a tonne of explosives hidden in a water tanker, tore through a crowded market in a neighbourhood dominated by ethnic Hazara Shia Muslims.
On Monday, the home secretary of Balochistan province, Akbar Hussain Durrani said the death toll from Saturday’s bomb had risen to 89, including 33 Afghans, with 204 other people wounded.
“We have certain clues about terrorists involved in past attacks and targeted killings which I cannot disclose at the moment but we are working on them,” Durrani told a news conference. Last month suicide bombers killed 92 people at a snooker hall in another Hazara neighbourhood of Quetta. Protesters are furious at the authorities’ failure to tackle rising attacks on Shias.
Karachi came to a halt as public transport workers and traders stopped work Monday after a Shia party called a protest strike. Schools were closed, traffic was off the roads and attendance in offices was thin. Several political and religious parties backed the strike call.
Protesters in Islamabad also shut down the main road leading to the airport, witnesses told AFP.
In Lahore, hundreds of Shias demonstrated to press demands for military action against extremists in Quetta.
Volunteers armed with automatic rifles and pistols on Monday guarded the streets of Hazara Town, the scene of Saturday’s attack.
It is customary for Muslims to bury the dead as soon as possible and police said they were in talks to end the protest, which has proved a powerful gesture before.
After the January 10 snooker hall attack, Shias staged a similar protest for four days. They only buried the dead after Islamabad sacked the provincial government and imposed governor’s rule.
The banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility both for Saturday’s attack and the snooker hall bombing, as well as a February 1 attack on a Shia mosque in northwest Pakistan that killed 24.
There is anger and frustration at the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authorities to tackle the LeJ.
In Quetta Amin Shaheedi, the vice-president of the Shiite Wahdatul Muslemeen party, demanded control of the city be handed over to the army.
“Terrorists are roaming freely and we are not given any protection. Our protest will continue until we get protection,” he told reporters. afp