Church leaders call for calm amid Pakistan protests
Christians and Muslims clash following Peshawar suicide bombing
Soldiers guard a Christian protest in Peshawar following Sunday's attack (AFP photo by A Majeed)
Church leaders in Pakistan have called for calm as Christian protests turned violent last night following the double suicide bombing of the historic All Saints Church in Peshawar on Sunday.
As the death toll climbed to 85 people following the worst attack against Christians in Pakistani history, clashes broke out between Christian protesters and Muslims in Karachi leaving one dead, police said.
Officers reportedly fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air in an attempt to disperse crowds on what was the chaotic first of three days of demonstrations planned by Pakistan’s Christian communities.
“A series of countrywide protests is on in all cities of the country,” said Archbishop Joseph Coutts, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as he called for calm.
The archbishop was speaking at a press conference at Karachi’s Holy Trinity Church, attended by leaders of political parties including the Pakistan Peoples Party, the pro-Muslim Jamaat Islami and liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
“I am thankful to our Muslim, Hindu and Sikh brothers for joining us in this time of grief and misery,” said Coutts.
Bishop Sadiq Daniel of Karachi and Baluchistan warned that the attack, which also injured 150 people, showed that “no-one is safe in Pakistan.
“Government officials, political leaders, the armed forces and places of worship are all targets of the Taliban,” he said.
Jundallah, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was a response to US drone strikes. But the Taliban itself condemned the bombing, a move analysts say is common by the group when a terrorist attack claims a large number of civilian casualties.
Although authorities put the toll at 85, reports said many more may have died because some family members took away their dead relatives straight after the blasts.
Burials of the dead began yesterday in Peshawar with hundreds of men, women and children gathered around the coffins of their dead relatives, many of them crying.
Although the Peshawar attack is the latest in a series against Christians in Pakistan, who make up less than two percent of the population, Sunday’s blasts represent the deadliest against minority Christians in the country’s history.
In response, authorities have stepped up the police presence around Christian churches after criticism that security had been inadequate.
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