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Central & South Asia

Pakistan PM meets Shia mourners

Prime minister travels to Quetta to meet Shia leaders, as rallies spread to Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore.
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2013 19:34
Protests have also been held in the commercial city of Karachi against the attacks on Shia community [Reuters]

New protests against attacks on the country's Shia communities have spread across Pakistan as the prime minister flew to the western city of Quetta to meet mourners who refused to bury their dead until the government promised them better protection.

Solidarity protests were reported on Sunday in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and especially Karachi, where hundreds gathered outside the Pakistani president's private house.

Thousands of Shias also protested in Quetta for a third day, pressing their demands for greater security and sacking of provincial government by blocking a main road with dozens of coffins of relatives killed in the attack.

Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, the prime minister, traveled to Quetta on Sunday and met with representatives from the Shia community in an attempt to pacify the protesters, said a Shia leader, who attended the meeting.

The Shia leaders are demanding that the provincial government be dismissed and the army take over responsibility for the city as they prepared for a third night outside in the cold and rain.

"We will keep protesting until our demands are met," said Raja Nasir Abbas, the secretary general of Majlis-e-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen, a national organisation of Shia groups and clerics.

Two ministers and three other high-ranking officials have written to the president and prime minister recommending the chief minister for Balochistan province be fired.

The country's religious affairs minister failed the day before to persuade the protesters to bury the dead.

Dismissal calls

In Lahore, protesters gathered outside the home of the governor of Punjab province.

Outside the Pakistani embassy in London people gathered to mourn the victims and protest in solidarity with Shias across Pakistan. As similar protest was reported in Toronto, Canada.

Islamic tradition demands that the dead be buried as soon as possible, and leaving the bodies of loved ones above ground for so long is a potent expression of grief and pain.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said: "The protesters are asking the government that the provincial government should be dismissed and military should be called in to protect the city because the civilian government had failed entirely to provide security to the people of Balochistan."

"It took days for the Pakistan prime minister to arrive in Quetta. He has not been able to go in front of the crowd and none of the country’s leadership has been able to go there and show solidarity with people," Hyder added.

Sectarian killings

"We want assurances that the killers will be arrested so our younger children will not die also," said Sakina Bibi, 56, who sat alongside the coffins of two of her sons.

"They were my everything," she wept. "Sitting here will not bring them back but it is our right to protest."

Protests also took place in five areas in the commercial capital Karachi, home to 18 million people. Protesters blocked the railway lines and the road connecting the airport to the city.

The protests were triggered by twin bombings on Thursday targeting Shia ethnic Hazaras in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province. The attacks, claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group, killed at least 95 people.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, whose roots are in the heartland Punjab province, wants to expel Shias from Pakistan, where they make up about 20 percent of the country's 180 million population.

Sectarian killings have been rising in Pakistan and Human Rights Watch has said bombings and gunmen killed more than 400 Shias last year and this year may be even more bloody.

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