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Pakistani Shiites protest after 86 killed

Pakistani Shiites protest after 86 killed

January 12th, 2013 in News

Pakistani Shiite Muslims chant slogans Friday next to the bodies of their relatives awaiting burial, who were killed in Thursday's deadly bombings, at a protest rally in Quetta, Pakistan.

Photo by The Associated Press /News Tribune.

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) - Shiite Muslims hit by a twin bombing that killed 86 people refused to bury their dead Friday, demanding the Pakistani government do more to protect them from increasing violence against the minority sect.

The attack on a billiards hall Thursday night in the southwestern city of Quetta marked a bloody start to the new year after a human rights group said 2012 was the deadliest ever for Shiites in the majority Sunni Muslim country.

Many of the attacks last year were carried out by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban that also claimed responsibility for the bombing of the billiards hall. The attack was one of three that took place across Pakistan on Thursday, killing 120 people in the country's deadliest day in five years.

The billiards hall was located in a predominantly Shiite area, and most of the dead and wounded were from the sect. Members of the beleaguered Shiite community laid about 50 of their dead on the street Friday, saying they would not bury them until the government improves security in the area. Islamic custom dictates the dead should be buried as soon possible.

Young Shiite men also set tires on fire and blocked a nearby road in protest.

"We want safety for all our sects, and all security measures should be taken for our safety, said Fida Hussain, a relative of one of the victims. "We will not bury them until the government fulfills all our demands."

The Shiites finally ended their protest and agreed to bury the dead late Friday after hours of negotiation with police and government officials, who promised to provide greater protection and arrest the killers, said senior police officer Hamid Shakeel.

Rights groups have also accused the government of not doing enough to protect Shiites in the country. Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused the Pakistani military and other security agencies of "callousness and indifference" when it came to the killing of Shiites.

Pakistan's intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to operate fairly freely.

The billiards hall bombing started with a suicide attack followed by a car blast minutes later. Militants often use such staggered bombings to maximize the body count by targeting rescuers and others who rush to the scene after the first explosion.

On Friday, Shiite volunteers erected tents to keep bystanders away from the severely damaged building, where the pool hall once occupied the basement.

Five victims of the billiards hall attack died of their wounds overnight, said Shakeel, who put the death toll at 86.

The strike was the worst of three deadly bombings targeting Shiites and soldiers in Quetta and worshippers at a Sunni mosque in the northwest on the same day.

In Quetta on Friday, suspected militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a terminal where trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan were parked, said Shakeel, the senior police officer. The attack killed two people, wounded another and set 10 trucks ablaze.