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Pakistan mourns Lahore park massacre victims

Rights groups decry lack of security despite ongoing crackdown against militants

Pakistan mourns Lahore park massacre victims

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visits an injured child in Jinnah Hospital in Lahore on March 28, following an Easter Sunday suicide bombing in a city park which killed at least 72 people. (Photo courtesy of Pakistan's Press Information Department).

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Priests and nuns joined more than 200 mourners on March 28 for a vigil for victims of Easter Sunday's suicide bombing in Lahore's Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park.

Many wore black armbands and placed flowers near children's rides in the park where at least 72 people died — 29 of them children — and more than 300 were injured.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility for the attack, which they said targeted Christians. Of the 72 victims, 14 of the dead were confirmed as Christians, Lahore police said.

"They did not target just one sect. Followers of all religions are crying with tears of blood," Franciscan Father Jamil Albert, parish priest of Holy Cross Church in Lahore, told the gathering.

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The crowd wept and held up banners condemning the Taliban and demanding better security and respect for humanity.

Similar vigils were held elsewhere in Pakistan including one in Multan, in Punjab led by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis also condemned the "reprehensible" Lahore attacks during his Regina Coeli address in St. Peter's Square, saying it "bloodied" Easter.

"I wish to express my closeness to all those affected by this cowardly and senseless crime, and ask you to pray to the Lord for the numerous victims and their loved ones," he said.

The pontiff appealed to the civil authorities and to "all the social components of [Pakistan] to do everything possible to restore security and peace to the population and, in particular, to the most vulnerable religious minorities."

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who visted the injured in hospital, declared three days of mourning following the blast and reiterated his country's resolve to uproot terrorism.

"The terrorists, being deprived of their refuges and training centers, have now resorted to targeting soft targets such as parks and schools ... We will avenge every last drop of our countrymen's blood," he said during a televised address to the nation on March 28.

A day after the attack, raids were conducted in three cities including Lahore in which dozens of suspected militants were rounded up, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also condemned the bombing in Lahore, expressing grave concerns over security and the apparent ease in which the militant were able to launch such a devastating attack despite an ongoing crackdown against extremists.

"The Gulshan-e-Iqbal [park] attack should be an eye-opener for those running the country's security as it demonstrates that despite a rather sustained crackdown, the militants retain the ability to carry out devastating attacks," the commission said.

"It is difficult to understand why there was practically no security at the park, particularly when there were big crowds in the area because of the Easter holiday."

Security and intelligence failures "played into the hands of those who have an infinite thirst for blood," the commission added.

Published March 29, 2016

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