Shiites in Pakistan refuse to bury victims of bomb explosions

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About 3,500 Pakistani Shiites protested in southwestern Pakistan for a second day on Saturday, blocking a main road with dozens of coffins of relatives killed in explosions to demand better security from the government.

Police in the city of Quetta had earlier said that the protest had ended, but a prominent Shiite leader Ibrahim Hazara said it would continue until the city was handed over to the army and the provincial government was dismissed.

Some 50 coffins blocked the road near a place where Shiites worship in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province. Shiites protested to condemn security lapses they say were responsible for Thursday's twin bombings of a billiards hall that killed 86 people.

Shi\'ite Muslims display the unburied coffins of victims of Thursday\'s twin bomb attack during a sit-in in Quetta January 12, 2013.  (Reuters)
Shi\'ite Muslims display the unburied coffins of victims of Thursday\'s twin bomb attack during a sit-in in Quetta January 12, 2013. (Reuters)
The dead included police, rescuers and journalists who rushed there in response to the first attack on the billiards hall, which was located in a predominantly Shiite area.

On Friday, Shiites laid about 50 of their dead on the street, saying they would not bury them until the government improved security. Islamic custom dictates that the dead be buried as soon possible.

Hazara said their protest would continue until their demands were accepted.

As the Shiites continued to demonstrate, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf ordered authorities on Saturday to give policing powers to paramilitary forces in Quetta to improve law and order.

The move was aimed at accepting the demands of Shiites, who wanted troops to be deployed for their protection. Under law, only police can arrest criminals.

It was unclear what kind of powers would now be given to paramilitary forces in Baluchistan.

Many attacks against Shiites are carried out by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Pakistan has a history of sectarian violence. Although most majority Sunnis and Shiites live together peacefully, small extremist groups on both sides often target each other's leaders and activists.

Also Saturday, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying a local lawmaker, Shakeel Khan Omarzai, his father and his guards in the northwestern district of Charsadda. Omarzai and 10 others were injured in the explosion, senior police officer Nisar Khan said.

Omarzai is from the ruling Awami National Party. The party's senior leader, Bashir Bilour, was killed in a suicide attack at a rally on Dec. 22 in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.