Pakistan: Sectarian attacks spark violent protests

Quetta, 26 Jan. (AKI) - By Syed Saleem Shahzad - Simmering sectarian violence once again erupted in Pakistan on Monday. Violent protests took place in Quetta, capital of gas-rich western Balochistan province after the slaying there of a Shia Muslim politician. And at least five people died in a bombing outside the town hall in Dera Ismail Khan, in restive, Pashtun dominated Northwest Frontier province.

The banned Sunni extremist group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the drive-by slaying in Quetta of Hussain Ali Yousufi. A prominent Shia figure and ethnic Hazara, he led the Hazara Democratic Party.

Ethnic Hazaras form a sizeable population (around 90,000) in Balochistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran - the country from which they originally migrated to Pakistan.

Clashes between the Taliban and Hazara in Afghanistan have in recent years damaged previously peaceful relations between Sunni Pashtun and Baloch tribesmen.

Hazara Shias have been a frequent target of Sunni extremist groups in Pakistani Balochistan. The Hazara community originally comes from the Afghan province of Bamyan.

Angry Hazara youths ransacked the main commercial centre in Quetta after Yousufi's killing on Monday. They pelted passing vehicles with stones, set other vehicles alight and smashed the windows of a bank in the city's main boulevard.

The Hazara Democratic Party meanwhile announced a strike in the city on Tuesday and a 40-day period of mourning for Yousufi.

HDP secretary general Abdul Khaliq Hazara strongly condemned the government and police for the inadequate protection given to ethnic Hazaras targeted by extremists.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast in Dera Ismail Khan, which reportedly occurred minutes before the parliamentary affairs minister, Khalifa Qayyum, had passed through the area.

Prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani condemned the bombing and vowed to bring to justice those responsible. Other politicians also condemned the attack as a barbaric act of terrorism.


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