QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani government officials met with Shi‘ite leaders late on Saturday as thousands of protesters prepared for a second night in the cold rain, alongside the bodies of 96 people killed in one of the worst sectarian attacks in the country’s history.
Leaders of Shi‘ite Hazaras, the ethnic group which was the target of Friday’s twin bombings in the provincial capital Quetta, have vowed not to bury their dead until authorities promise to protect them from a rising tide of sectarian attacks.
Around 2,000 people spent Friday night outside keeping vigil at the site of the bombings - claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) Sunni militant group - spreading plastic sheets over the shrouded bodies to keep the rain off them.
By Saturday, the number had swelled to around 5,000.
Muslim tradition requires that bodies are buried as soon as possible and leaving them above ground is a powerful expression of grief and pain.
A delegation led by Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khurshid Shah met Shi‘ite leaders after they complained about what they believe is the indifference of most Pakistani politicians to their plight.
Syed Dawood Agha, the vice president of the Shi‘ite Conference of Quetta, said negotiations were underway with the government but nothing had been decided by Saturday night.
Small protests were also held in the cities of Lahore, Karachi and the capital of Islamabad, where around two hundred protesters held candles and placards demanding an end to attacks on Shi‘ites, who make up 20 percent of Pakistan’s population.
Parliamentarian Bushra Gohar from the Awami National Party (ANP) was the only prominent politician attending the protest in the capital.
She said there were several reasons why officials had been slow to respond: support for militants, fear or indifference.
“It could be pure callousness,” she said. “Many political parties also support these groups. They are proxies.”
Security policy in Pakistan is dominated by the army, which denies accusations it retains ties to militant groups, in part to counter the influence of India.
The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has seen some of its own senior politicians gunned down, has often been unwilling to speak out against militants for fear of being killed.
Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Myra MacDonald