QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — More than 2,000 Pakistani Shiites blocked a major road in the capital of a restive province with coffins and demonstrators Thursday as mourners refused to bury their dead to protest increasing militant violence targeting the minority community.
Anger has spread after a suicide bomber killed 28 Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran earlier this week in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest but poorest province that has been plagued by bloodshed.
Local Shiite leader Musarrat Agha called on authorities to crack down on al-Qaeda linked Sunni militants such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, which often attack Shiites, considering them to be heretics.
“We need protection. We want action against those who are killing our innocent people,” Agha said as he sat beside one of the coffins on the road in the provincial capital of Quetta. Hundreds of Shiites also rallied in other major cities, including the port city of Karachi, Lahore and the garrison city of Rawalpindi outside the capital, Islamabad.
TV footage showed police swinging batons and using tear gas to disperse protesters in Karachi, but protests were largely peaceful elsewhere.
A police officer Ahmad Nawaz said more than 2,000 protesters— including women and children— rallied in Quetta to condemn Tuesday’s attack against a bus carrying the Shiite pilgrims in the district of Mastung.
The violence against Shiites has witnessed an alarming increase in recent years. Baluchistan also faces violence by separatists fighting for independence who often attack Pakistani troops or government installations.
According to Human Rights Watch, 2012 was the bloodiest year for the Shiites, with over 400 members of the sect killed in targeted attacks throughout the country.
Last year, Shiites held a similar protest for several days after a pair of bombings on a billiards hall in Quetta killed 86 people.
A top community leader Khaliq Hazara also urged the government to act against those who orchestrated the attacks targeting Shiites.
“We want concrete steps against the terrorists,” he said.
Pakistan is a majority Sunni Muslim state, with around 15 percent of the population Shiite. Most Sunnis and Shiites live together peacefully in Pakistan, though tensions have existed for decades and extremists on both sides target each other’s leaders.
In other violence, an explosives-laden vehicle exploded at a car repair shop in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing six people and wounding seven, including two children, police official Garanullah Khan said.
The vehicle had been brought to the shop for repairs, and police were trying to trace its owner, Khan said.
Authorities were trying to determine whether the car repair shop was the real target or whether someone wanted to use the car bomb to attack another location and it simply went off prematurely.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.