Shiites to bury dead after PM's assurance

Jan. 13, 2013 at 11:17 PM
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QUETTA, Pakistan, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Pakistan's prime minister paved the way Sunday for Shiites in Baluchistan to bury relatives killed in sectarian violence by ousting the provincial government.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who flew to Quetta, agreed to the demands of the minority Hazara Shiites, who had refused to bury the bodies of nearly 100 of their community members killed in twin explosions last week in the provincial capital of Quetta, and impose federal rule in the province.

The explosions Thursday were among the deadliest sectarian attacks on the minority community in Quetta, where there is a large population of Shiites. The banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, associated with militant groups and blamed for similar attacks in the past, had claimed responsibility for the bombings.

This time the members of the minority community refused to bury their dead until the Pakistani government guaranteed their security. Pakistan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country.

Ashraf met with the protesting Shiites Sunday night to express his condolences and assure them the province's chief minister and his government would be replaced with direct rule from the capital led by the provincial governor.

Pakistan's Nation newspaper reported the protesters for the third straight night Sunday had sat with the coffins of their loved ones, braving the bitter cold. They were expected to go forward with the burials Monday.

Ashraf announced the dismissal of the chief minister and his government and the appointment of Gov. Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi as the chief executive of Baluchistan beginning Monday. The prime minister said he had consulted with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and other leaders before making the announcement, the report said.

Ashraf also said compensation would be paid to the families of the victims. He said he hoped as chief executive, Magsi would take all steps to bring those behind the Quetta bombings to justice.

The blasts at a snooker club killed more than 120 people and wounded more than 150 people, the Nation said. Most of those killed were believed to be members of the Hazara Shiite community.

Ashraf said paramilitary forces have been given police powers, and promised they will launch operations against outlawed militant organizations behind the sectarian attacks, the Voice of America reported.

Zohra Yusuf, representative of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the Hazara community "has shown tremendous patience."

"There have been many attacks on them in the past many years," Yusuf said. "They have been targeted primarily on the basis of their faith. And the [provincial] government has totally failed in its responsibility to provide protection to them."

Large sections of Pakistan have been wracked by sectarian, separatist, political and militant violence for months, and its civilian government has been widely criticized for its inability to deal with the situation.

On the same day of violence against Shiites, a separatist group in Baluchistan was blamed for a blast in another part of Quetta that killed 12 people, most of them security personnel. Also Thursday, 22 people assembled at a seminary in the scenic Swat Valley died in a suicide bomb attack.

These acts of violence come as the current five-year term of Zardari's civilian government is set to end in March, with general elections to follow.

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