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Central & South Asia

Talks fail to quell Pakistan Shia protests

Demonstrators to continue protests over lack of security as talks between officials and Shia leaders end inconclusively.
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2013 19:39
Protests were also held in the cities of Lahore, Karachi and the capital of Islamabad in solidarity with Shias [Reuters]

Talks between Pakistani officials and Shia leaders have failed to quell a protest that brought thousands of people out onto cold, wet streets for a second night to watch over the bodies of 96 people killed in Quetta in one of the country's worst sectarian attacks.

Qayyum Changazi, chairman of the Yakjehti Council, a national alliance of predominantly Shia organisations, said on Saturday the talks had produced no result.

He said the protest would continue until the army took over Quetta to protect Shia civilians and the Balochistan provincial government was dismissed.

Syed Dawood Agha, the chief of the Balochistan Shia Conference, had earlier said: "We will continue our sit in until Quetta is handed over to the army."

Agha told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper that the provincial government and police had completely failed to provide protection to them.

Syed Khurshid Shah, the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, who led the delegation for the talks, told Dawn that a meeting has been convened in the southern port city of Karachi to discuss the law and order situation in Balochistan - of which Quetta is the capital - on Sunday.

Senior leaders of the Balochistan state government also participated in the negotiations, the Karachi-based English daily reported.

Leaders of Shia Hazaras, the ethnic group which was the target of Friday's twin bombings, have vowed not to bury their dead until authorities promise to protect them from a rising tide of sectarian attacks.

About 2,000 people spent Friday night outside keeping vigil at the site of the bombings - claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni group - spreading plastic sheets over the shrouded bodies to keep the rain off them.

Protests in main cities

As the sky darkened, protesters wrapped up in heavy coats and shawls and burned small coal fires to keep warm. Many held candles and some wept next to the coffins of their relatives.

By Saturday, the number had swelled to about 5,000.

Small protests were also held in the cities of Lahore, Karachi and the capital of Islamabad, where around 200 protesters held candles and placards demanding an end to attacks on Shias, who make up 20 percent of Pakistan's population.

Muslim tradition requires that bodies are buried as soon as possible and leaving them above ground is seen as a powerful act of protest.

Parliamentarian Bushra Gohar from the Awami National Party was the only prominent politician to attend the protest in the capital.

She said there were several reasons why officials had been slow to respond - support for extremist groups, fear or indifference.

"It could be pure callousness," she said. "Many political parties also support these groups. They are proxies."

The ruling Pakistan People's Party, which has seen some of its own senior politicians gunned down, has often been unwilling to speak out against fighters for fear of being killed.

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