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Pakistani Shiites demand protection in bombing aftermath

| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

ISLAMABAD—Thousands of Shiite Muslims staged protests across Pakistan on Monday, demanding that the government and military protect them from Sunni extremists in a bombing that killed 89 on Saturday in the southwestern city of Quetta.

Shiites, a religious minority in Pakistan, pointed to the attack that followed a similar devastating bombing in January, as further evidence of Islamabad's indifference to what many describe as a pogrom against Shiites in Balochistan province.

The bombings have been aimed in particular at ethnically Hazara Shiites whose distinctive features have made them easy, frequent targets of gun-wielding assassins in recent months. Sunni militant groups do not consider Shiites to be Muslims.

Many families of Saturday's bombing victims refuse to bury their dead until the Pakistani army acts against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militia that asserted responsibility for Saturday's bombing and for a January blast that killed more than 90.

The sectarian killings and subsequent unrest present yet another challenge to the strategically vital, nuclear-armed nation, already embroiled in a war against an indigenous Taliban.

“The government has failed to protect the lives of people and maintain peace,” Maulana Amin Shaheedi, deputy secretary of the main political organization representing different Shiite groups in Pakistan, said at a news conference in Quetta, the provincial capital. “We will not bury the victims until the army is deployed in Quetta.”

The paramilitary Frontier Corps is nominally in charge of security in Balochistan, a huge, sparsely populated province that comprises about 40 percent of Pakistan's land mass.

But Shiite activists and their supporters want a concerted operation by the main military to end the sectarian attacks.

More than 400 Shiites were killed in Pakistan in 2012, the worst year on record for fatal attacks against Shiites, according to Human Rights Watch. More than 125 of those were killed in Balochistan, the group said.

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