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Govt assures 'tough action'; Hazaras agree to bury dead

24 January, 2014

QUETTA: The Hazara mourners ended their sit-in on Thursday and agreed to bury the bodies of the victims of Tuesday's bombing after the federal government's assurance that the perpetrators of the attack would be brought to justice.

Talking to media, Hazara Democratic Party Chairman Abdul Khaliq Hazara announced that the decision to end the protest demonstration was made after successful negotiations between Hazara community elders and visiting federal ministers Chaudhry Nisar and Pervez Rasheed. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and Information Minister Pervez Rasheed visited Quetta on the directive of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to express solidarity and convey his message to the aggrieved families.

After chairing a high level security meeting with army and intelligence leadership earlier in the day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had directed the federal ministers to reach Quetta to hold negotiations with the Shia community. The HDP chairman said the bodies of the victims of Mastung blast will be buried in Hazara graveyard in Quetta on Friday morning.

A suicide attack on a bus carrying pilgrims in Draingarh area of Mastung District on Tuesday killed 24 people and injured 30 others. Majority of the victims belonged to the Hazara community, whose members took to the streets, refusing to bury the dead in protest against the attack. They continued their protest for two consecutive days, demanding the government launch targeted operations against the elements behind the incident.

Thousands demonstrated in cities across the country on Thursday against the killings. Up to 2,000 people, most of them Shias, demonstrated on Quetta's busy Alamdar Road with the bodies of the bombing victims, refusing to bury them until action is taken against militants. There were also demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi, against what the protesters called was the genocide of Pakistani Shias. Police reportedly fired teargas shells and arrested around eight people to disperse the protesters staging one of the several sit-ins in Karachi.

Members of Quetta's Hazara ethnic community began their protest on Wednesday and braved freezing temperatures to spend the night in the open. They said they would not bury the victims' bodies until a military operation wipes out militants and their sanctuaries from the outskirts of Quetta and nearby Mastung District, where Tuesday's attack happened. "We will not bury our dead bodies until a clear assurance from the government that it will launch a crackdown against terrorists and their sanctuaries," HDP chief Abdul Khaliq Hazara told AFP.

Shias in Quetta staged similar protests last year after two devastating bomb attacks targeting their community, prompting Islamabad to sack the provincial government. Relatives put pictures of the victims with their bodies and sat on the road. The militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has been accused of killing hundreds since its emergence in the 1990s, claimed responsibility for the attack.

A Human Rights Watch report this week said LeJ operated "virtual impunity across Pakistan, as law enforcement officials either turn a blind eye or appear helpless to prevent attacks". There were sit-in protests Thursday in about a dozen different locations in Karachi under the banner of Majlis-e-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (MWM). In Lahore, hundreds gathered in front of the Governor's House and chanted slogans demanding an operation against militants.

"It is a genocide of Shiites," MWM spokesman Muhammad Muzahir told AFP. Hundreds of protesters also blocked Faizabad interchange, which links Rawalpindi with Islamabad, as part of their protest against the killings. In a bid to address reservations of the grieved Shia Hazara community, which is currently staging sit-ins against the Mastung massacre, a government delegation comprising Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Information Minister Pervez Rashid reached Quetta on Thursday evening, DawnNews reported.

Earlier, assailing the federal government for being apathetic towards the protesters, the MWM called for a countrywide strike on Friday. The Private Schools Association and public transporters in Karachi announced that they will keep their offices closed on Friday. All examinations scheduled for Friday were also cancelled by the Karachi University in this regard.

Meanwhile, security has been beefed up for Railways in Balochistan in view of serious security threats.

Security sources, quoting a letter written by intel agencies to Railways administration, told a private TV channel that outlawed Baloch Republican Army was planning to attack trains coming or going to Punjab.

Railway police spokesman Ali Abbas told the channel that security had been beefed up, and 18 personnel would now be deployed to secure a train.

SP Railway Police Quetta himself was supervising the security arrangements, the spokesman added.

End.

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