Pakistan mourns blast victims

Thousands attend funeral in Pakistani city for dozens killed in suicide attack on Shia Muslim procession.

    Demonstrations are under way following yesterday's deadly attack which claimed the lives of 65 people [Reuters]

    Thousands have attended a funeral in the Pakistani city of Quetta for victims of a suicide attack on a Shia Muslim procession.

    The death toll from Friday's attack rose from 43 to 65 overnight as critically wounded people died in hospitals, police said on Saturday.

    Shops and schools remained closed as security officials increased security in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

    Security was also stepped up at mosques across the country.

    Protesters have demonstrated at the scene of the attack, in anger at what they called lax security measures. Wider demonstrations were expected for later in the day.

    About 150 people were wounded, with some still in a critical condition, a police official said.

    "Streets are deserted and security forces and personnel of anti-terrorism force are patrolling in different areas," an AFP news agency reporter said.

    Pakistani Taliban 'responsible'

    At least 200 people were injured in the attack, for which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. But police said so far, no arrests had been made and that an investigation was in progress.

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    The bomber, who was among a 450-strong crowd marching through the city, blew himself up as the procession reached the main square.

    Chaotic scenes followed, with an angry mob starting fires and shooting into the air while others fled or lay on the ground to avoid gunfire.

    Police were forced to quell unrest after the bombing, Sardar Khan, the chief of Quetta's police control room, said.

    "An angry mob tried to set on fire a private building and vehicles. Some of the participants were armed and they were firing in the air. They also set on fire some bicycles and motorcycles."

    Major-General Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, told Al Jazeera that such attacks are taking place in urban centres because "the army has moved into large swathes of tribal areas, denying [the fighters] their freedom of movement and dislodging them from their main strongholds".

    "[As a result] they have now resorted to acts of desperation, targeting our population and trying to exert pressure on the government and the military to reconsider their operations in tribal areas as they are being defeated there ... this is the phenomenon that we see."

    Attack condemned

    Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's prime minister, strongly condemned the bombing and called for an immediate investigation.

    Washington also weighed in, condemning the targeting of civilians in Pakistan.

    Attacks against religious minorities come at an already difficult time as flood aid trickles into Pakistan [AFP]

    "To target innocent civilians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at an already difficult time as the country is working hard to recover from terrible flooding caused by monsoons makes these acts even more reprehensible," the White House said.

    Friday's rally in Quetta was held to mark al-Quds day, an international event staged each year by the Shia community to oppose Israel's control of Jerusalem and show solidarity with Palestinian Muslims.

    Shia Muslims are a minority in Pakistan, accounting for around a fifth of the country's 160 million population, which is dominated by Sunnis.

    Fighters have launched a series of attacks as Muslims mark the final days of the holy month of Ramadan even as the country struggles to deal with massive flooding that has killed nearly 1,800 people and left millions reliant on aid handouts.

    More than 3,660 people have been killed in a series of suicide attacks and bomb explosions, many of them carried out by the Taliban and other al-Qaeda-linked fighters, in Pakistan during the last three years.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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