Mass burials for 89 victims of a bomb attack targeting Pakistani Shiite Muslims began Wednesday after three days of nationwide protests at the government’s failure to tackle sectarian violence.
Tensions were running high as up to 4,000 mourners gathered to bury the dead in the southwestern city of Quetta, and some pelted a government official’s car with stones, prompting security forces and then protesters to fire into the air.
No-one was hurt in the incident.
The bomb on Saturday in an area of Quetta dominated by ethnic Hazara Shiites was the second major attack on the minority community in five weeks and prompted protesters to pour onto the streets across the country, shutting down parts of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
Around 1,000 of the mourners, shouting anti-government slogans and beating their chests, quarreled with their leaders for agreeing to end their sit-in protest, which began on Sunday, and demanded Quetta be handed over to the army.
An angry mob of young people and women, crying and screaming, initially refused to bury the dead but agreed after assurances from their community heads, an AFP reporter said.
“You can see that the burial has been started and the protest sit-in is over,” Sardar Saadat Ali, one of the community leader told AFP in the Hazara community graveyard.
Shiite leaders agreed to end the protest after meeting government ministers, who promised a “targeted operation” to catch those responsible for Saturday’s atrocity.
Soldiers from the paramilitary Frontier Corps and police were deployed in all markets and on roads in Quetta city as the burials took place, while troops searched every vehicle heading towards the Hazara town area.
Shiites, who make up around 20 percent of the mostly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million, are facing record numbers of attacks, raising serious questions about security as nuclear-armed Pakistan prepares to hold elections by mid-May.
Outlawed militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) has claimed responsibility for the Quetta attacks and Shiites are furious that authorities have done nothing to prosecute those responsible.