QUETTA (AFP) – Shiite families refusing to bury their dead after twin bombings in Pakistan’s troubled southwestern city of Quetta vowed to continue their sit-in protest Saturday until the army takes over security.
By late evening, initial crowds of hundreds of protesters had swelled to several thousand, said an AFP reporter at the scene, all gathered on the main road near the snooker hall hit by Thursday’s twin suicide attacks.
Hundreds of women and children were among the demonstrators, braving the severe cold as they stood alongside more than 60 coffins carrying victims’ shrouded bodies.
Refusal to bury the bodies is an extreme position in Islamic society, where the dead are normally buried the same or next day, but families say they will not leave until the authorities agree to put the security and administration of the city under army control.
Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombings, which took place in an area dominated by Shiite Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority and killed 92 people, with 121 wounded.
It was the worst ever sectarian attack on Shiites, who account for around 20 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million population.
“The government machinery has failed, there is no protection for people in Quetta,” local Shiite party official Hashim Mausawi told AFP.
“We will not end our protest until we get an assurance that the Pakistan army will take over security and administrative control in Quetta.”
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has sent federal minister Khurshid Shah to hold talks with Shiite community leaders, senior administration official Hashim Ghilzai told AFP Saturday.
A Shiite party leader Agha Ashraf Zaidi told AFP: “We discussed our one-point agenda — deployment of army in Quetta. The minister sought time and promised to contact us later after discussing it with the prime minister.
“We have made it clear that we will not leave this place nor will we bury the bodies until our demand is met.”
He called for the provincial government to be sacked and the army to launch a targeted operation to arrest and punish the killers.
“We are forced to take this hard decision,” another Shiite leader Daud Agha told AFP.
“We realize there is a problem in keeping the dead bodies in the open for so long but our concern now is the safety of those who are alive,” Agha said.
In a separate protest, more than 500 workers and supporters of the Hazara Democratic Party gathered outside the office of the provincial police chief in Quetta as its leader Abdul Khaliq went on a three-day hunger strike against lack of security.
Rallies were held in several cities including Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi to express solidarity with the Hazara community and
several political parties will mark Sunday as a day of protest.
The government in Baluchistan province, where security forces are also fighting a separatist insurgency, announced three days of mourning after the snooker hall bombings.
It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since suicide bombers killed 98 people outside a police training centre in the northwest in 2011 — an assault claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.
Earlier Thursday, a bomb had been detonated under a security force vehicle in a crowded part of Quetta, killing 11 people and wounding dozens.
Another bomb at a religious gathering in the northwestern Swat valley killed 22 people and wounded more than 80.
In total, 126 people were killed in what was one of Pakistan’s deadliest days for years, raising concerns about violence in the nuclear-armed country ahead of general elections expected in spring.
The United States condemned the “senseless and inhumane attacks” while the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded the government take immediate steps to clamp down on “murdering mayhem” ahead of the elections.