|Pakistani Shias demand protection from militants||
Thousands of Pakistani Shias, furious over a sectarian bombing that killed 89 people, held a demonstration on Monday, demanding that security forces protect them from hard-line groups.
The attack, near a street market in the southwestern city of Quetta on Saturday, highlighted the government's failure to crack down on militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan just a few months before a general election is due.
The death toll climbed to 89 on Monday, said provincial health secretary Nasibullah Bazai.
While the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remain a major source of instability, extremists, who regard Shias as non-Muslims, have emerged as another significant security threat.
Shia frustrations with waves of attacks on them have reached boiling point.
In Quetta, some ethnic Shia Hazaras are refusing to bury their dead until the army and security forces go after Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the group which claimed responsibility for the latest bombing, Reuters reported on Monday.
Around 4,000 men, women and children placed 71 bodies beside a Shia place of worship. Muslim tradition requires that bodies be buried as soon as possible and leaving them above ground is a potent expression of grief and pain.
Some coffins contained three of four bags of remains, with photographs of the dead on top. Grown men wept beside a hand-written list of victims hanging on a wall.
Protesters chanted “stop killing Shias”.
“We stand firm for our demands of handing over the city to army and carrying out targeted operation against terrorists and their supporters,” said Syed Muhammad Hadi, spokesman for an alliance of Shia groups.
“We will not bury the bodies unless our demands are met.”
The paramilitary Frontier Corps is largely responsible for security in Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, but Shias say it is unable or unwilling to protect them.
LeJ has stepped up suicide bombings and shootings in a bid to destabilize strategic U.S. ally Pakistan and install a Sunni theocracy, an echo of the strategy that Al-Qaeda pursued to try and trigger a civil war in Iraq several years ago.
The group was behind a bombing last month in Quetta, near the Afghan border, that killed nearly 100 people.
In Karachi, a strike to protest against the Quetta bloodshed brought Pakistan's commercial hub to a standstill.
Authorities boosted security as protesters blocked roads, disrupted rail services to other parts of the country and torched vehicles. Protesters clashed with police who stopped them from entering the airport.
The roughly 500,000-strong Hazara community in Quetta, who speak a Persian dialect, have distinct features and are an easy target.
48 hour deadline
Members of the Pakistani Shia Hazara community Sunday threatened to hold widespread demonstrations if the government did not arrest the people responsible for the Quetta bombing within 48 hours.
The vice chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, a political group representing Hazaras, said Sunday that the party was giving the government 48 hours to find those responsible for the attack and arrest them, AP reported on Sunday.
“Otherwise, the Hazara community will start a protest in Pakistan and the world over,” said Azizullah Hazara.
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