Pakistan faces growing anger over sectarian bombings

Sun Feb 17, 2013 12:10pm EST
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By Gul Yousufzai

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani Shi'ites called on the military on Sunday to take control of the city of Quetta after a bombing by Sunni militants killed 85 people, and threatened to stage a long march to the capital if their demands were not met.

Pakistani leaders have done little to contain hardline Sunni Muslim groups which have stepped up a campaign of bombings and assassinations of minority Shi'ites in a bid to destabilize the nuclear-armed country and install a Sunni theocracy.

The unpopular government, which is gearing up for elections expected within months, faces growing anger for failing to deliver stability.

On Saturday, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), seen as the most ruthless Sunni sectarian group, claimed responsibility for the Quetta attack, which deepened suspicions among Shi'ites that Pakistan's intelligence agencies were turning a blind eye to the bloodshed or even supporting extremists.

The families of the some of the victims have said they will not bury their dead until the army steps in to protect Shi'ites, said Hasnain Zaidi, a spokesman for an alliance of Shi'ite groups called Majlis Wahdat al Muslimeen.

Muslim tradition requires that bodies are buried as soon as possible and leaving them above ground is a potent expression of grief and pain.

"The situation is very tense," Zaidi told Reuters. "Thirty five bodies were burned beyond recognition. Shi'ite families will hold a long march to Islamabad if the army does not step in."

The death toll from the bombing rose overnight, with most of the casualties in the main bazaar of the southwestern city, the capital of Baluchistan and near the border with Afghanistan. The attack targeted ethnic Hazara Shi'ites.   Continued...

Smoke rises after a bomb attack in a Shi'ite Muslim area of the Pakistani city of Quetta February 16, 2013. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed