Thousands protest in Pakistan against Shia killings



Islamabad: Civil society and Shia groups on Saturday organised protests in several Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, against bomb attacks that killed nearly 100 Hazara Shias and demanded action against militant groups that are targeting the minority community.

In the federal capital, scores of people joined a protest near the National Press Club this afternoon.

They later marched to the nearby Super Market and staged a sit-in on a road, criticising militant groups like the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba that have targeted Shias.

The protestors, including Hazara Shias, rights activists and parliamentarians, held posters that read "Stop Shia genocide" and "Why government is unable to face the killers".

As evening fell, the protestors lit candles and shouted slogans that were openly critical of the army for backing militant groups.

The slogans included "The military uniform is behind the terrorists" and "Strengthen the movement against the LeJ".

Several rights activists and Shia leaders who addressed the gathering demanded action by security forces against sectarian militant groups.

At one stage, a large number of students from a nearby madrassa gathered at the site of the protest and objected to people shouting slogans against the LeJ and SSP.

They were dispersed by the police contingent that was guarding the protestors.

Leading columnist Raza Rumi, in his address, said the Pakistani people should draw inspiration from the mass protests that erupted in Delhi over the gang-rape of a young woman and force the government to crack down on groups targeting Shias and other minorities.

The speakers condemned Thursday's bombings in a Shia-dominated neighbourhood of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, that killed 92 people, a majority of them Hazara Shias.

The LeJ claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Parliamentarian Bushra Gohar, whose Awami National Party is a member of the ruling coalition, said people should come out to stop such attacks.

"This was not an attack on the Hazara community but on Pakistan and all its citizens...The Prime Minister should go to Quetta and address the grievances of the Shias," she said.

The largest protest was held in Quetta, where hundreds of Hazara Shias gathered with the bodies of over 80 victims of Thursday's bombings and said the dead would not be buried till the army takes control of the city to improve security.

Hazara leaders spurned requests from federal Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Shah and Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi to end their protest.

Hazara leaders in Islamabad said their sit-in would continue as long as the protest in Quetta.

Protests were also organised in cities like Karachi and Lahore, where members of Shia and Sunni groups and Christian organisations joined a gathering at Liberty Chowk and demanded action against those responsible for the killings in Quetta.

Many protestors shouted slogans like "I am Hazara".

The Hazara Shias migrated from Afghanistan almost a century ago to escape persecution.

They have been targeted by sectarian groups for over a decade but the attacks in Balochistan increased significantly over the past two years.

Scores of Hazara Shias, who stand out due to their distinctive features, have been killed in Quetta and surrounding areas in attacks by the LeJ.

PTI