Pakistani leader meets protesting families of bombing victims

Posted at 7:05 PM, Jan 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-13 19:05:15-05

By Shaan Khan, CNN

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Sunday met with Shiites in Quetta who are protesting the bombing deaths of 97 people last week, Pakistani media reported.

Ashraf addressed protestors who are taking part in a sit-in and have lined up the bodies of bombing victims at major intersections. He said he would meet one of the two major demands of the group, tossing out the provincial government and putting a governor in charge.

However, Ashraf said he wouldn’t implement military rule in the city but would leave it up to the governor to ask for more help — if needed — from paramilitary forces to try to quell the violence.

It was unclear when the sit-in would end, as leaders of the protest said they will take a wait-and-see approach to the change in government.

Local Shiites have also refused to bury most of the victims after a series of bombings rocked Quetta on Thursday, police official Wazir Khan Nasir said.

Relatives of the deceased have sat beside the bodies in freezing temperatures over the past three days. Symbolic protests occurred in other cities, including Islamabad.

Earlier, Ashraf also condemned the blasts in Quetta.

“The prime minister, while expressing his heartfelt condolences and sympathies with the bereaved families, reiterated the government’s resolve to stamp out the menace of militancy and terrorism from the country in its all shapes and manifestations,” said a statement from his office.

Not burying dead bodies immediately after death is taboo in Islam. The soul of the body is not considered to be at rest until the body is in the ground.

Quetta is the capital of Balochistan province, an area regularly plagued by violence. In addition to sectarian attacks on Shiites, unrest in the province is believed to be fomented by several insurgent groups, including the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army and the Pakistani Taliban.

Although Balochistan is the largest province in Pakistan geographically, analysts and some locals have criticized the federal government for neglecting it, leading to instability.

The Shiite community has repeatedly asked for more protection but to no avail.

Last week’s string of attacks was the deadliest so far against the minority Shiite community, which has been targeted repeatedly in the past by groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned Sunni militant group.

The deadliest explosions were two suicide bombings in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood known as Alamdar Road.

One blast brought police, rescue workers and journalists rushing to the scene. It was swiftly followed by another explosion — set off by a man sitting in a car with more than 100 kilograms of explosives — that hit many of those responding to the initial attack.

The double bombing, described by police as one of the worst attacks on the Shiite minority, killed 85 people and wounded about 150.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the Alamdar Road attacks.

Shiites, a minority sect in mainly Sunni Muslim Pakistan, face persecution from extremists. Last month, more than 20 Shiite pilgrims were killed when a car bomb detonated near the buses they were traveling in.

Mir Zubair Mehmood, a Quetta police official, said the Alamdar attacks were motivated by Sunni and Shiite sectarian differences.

Another blast in Quetta on Thursday struck a security checkpoint in a busy market, authorities said. A bomb planted in a car detonated as security forces entered the area, killing 12 people and wounding 45, according Nasir, the police spokesman. Nasir blamed the attack on Baloch insurgents.

A fourth bomb went off by the side of the road leading to the city’s airport, wounding three.

CNN’s Aliza Kassim in Atlanta and journalist Nasir Habib in Islamabad contributed to this report.