News24

Pakistan Shi'ites bury blast victims

2013-01-14 14:59

Quette - Embattled Shi'ite Muslims on Monday buried victims of the deadliest single attack on their community in Pakistan, ending a four-day protest to demand protection after the provincial government was sacked.

Men, women and children spent four nights camped in freezing conditions, refusing to bury the victims of a twin suicide bombing that killed 92 people in a Shi'ite area of the south-western city of Quetta last Thursday.

In other cities across Pakistan, solidarity protests were held by hundreds of other Shi’ites, who account for 20% of the population and according to Human Rights Watch suffered record levels of violence last year.

Extreme Sunni Muslim group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombing at a snooker hall in the capital of Baluchistan province, which wounded more than 120 people.

Thousands of Shi’ites from the ethnic Hazara community gathered for the mass burial in the afternoon of more than 60 of the dead, an AFP photographer said.

Families wept and cried, with many beating their chests and heads in mourning as the coffins were brought to the graveyard in Quetta, guarded by hundreds of police and paramilitary soldiers along with Shiite volunteers.

Thousands of Hazara protesters had staged their sit-in outside the bombed building to demand that the army take over in Baluchistan, which also suffers from a nine-year separatist insurgency and Islamist militancy.

Government criticised

The provincial government was widely criticised for failing to control the myriad security problems and the chief minister, Aslam Raisani, was rapped for making a trip to London while security worsened.

Hazaras were initially divided over whether the government had gone far enough to meet their demands by nominating the governor, who is appointed by the national president, to take over the province.

But by 11:00, families started leaving to prepare their dead for burial.

Leaders had said overnight they would not call off their protest until they saw official notification of the orders from Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

Ashraf flew to Quetta on Sunday to meet the protesters.

He announced live on television in the middle of the night that the provincial government would be sacked and the governor would take over.

He said Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi could call the army at "any time for assistance" and the top commander in Baluchistan would "directly" supervise paramilitary forces who have the power to arrest and investigate anyone.

"We are determined to defeat this mindset," Ashraf was quoted as saying by state media, referring to those he accused of trying to divide Shiites and Sunnis.

"I have great respect for the sacrifice, tolerance and peaceful behaviour of the Hazara community. You are an asset of Pakistan," he added.

Protests

Refusing to bury the dead is an extreme protest in Islamic society, where the deceased are normally buried the same or next day.

In Karachi, Pakistan's financial capital, authorities announced that they had suspended cellphone services "for a few hours because of security reasons" on Monday.

More than 1 000 people had gathered near President Asif Ali Zardari's house in the upmarket neighbourhood of Clifton on Saturday in solidarity with the Hazaras.

Hundreds of them remained there until Monday morning.

"We are leaving now, as our demands have been accepted and our brothers in Quetta have asked us to end our protest," said participant Shaukat Ali.