LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani police broke up Christian protesters in the eastern city of Lahore with tear gas and baton charges on Monday, a day after suicide bombers killed at least 16 people outside two churches, police said.
The protesters, angry at the lack of security for Christians in the majority-Muslim country, blocked a major highway in the city.
“Police wanted them to disperse peacefully and did not take any action,” said Nayab Haider, a spokesman for Lahore police.
But a hit-and-run by a car, which injured four protesters, provoked the crowd, some of whom started throwing stones at cars and private property.
“When police tried to stop them, they stoned police and beat officials with batons. In retaliation, police baton-charged them followed by tear gas firing,” Haider said.
Sunday’s attacks, claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, occurred minutes apart in a majority-Christian suburb of Lahore. Police said they targeted two churches, one Catholic and one Protestant.
Islamist militants in Pakistan have attacked Christians and other religious minorities often over the past decade. Many Christians accuse the government of doing little to protect them, saying politicians are quick to offer condolences after an attack but slow to take any concrete steps to improve security.
Following the blasts, enraged residents beat and burned to death two men they suspected of involvement, a police official said. Protesters also began smashing up shops and attacking vehicles.
“I and my driver were coming to Lahore when protesters stopped us, struck our car with batons and beat my driver and told us to go back,” Zulfiqar Ali, a resident of Kahna, south of Lahore, told Reuters of Monday’s violence.
Christians in India said on Monday that the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not done enough to protect their religion, after a spate of attacks including the rape of a 75-year-old nun at the weekend.
Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Mike Collett-White