Protests as government blocks pilgrimage route after attacks
Shias protest against the pilgrimage ban
Hundreds of members of the Shia minority rallied in Karachi on Sunday to protest against rising sectarian violence and a government ban on road travel to neighboring Iran for pilgrimages.
The ban was imposed after 24 Shia pilgrims were killed in a deadly bomb and gun attack in Taftan town in the restive Balochistan province near the Iranian border on June 8. The assault coincided with the Taliban’s raid on Karachi airport, and was thus largely ignored by the media.
Commenting on the carnage, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan urged Shia MPs to persuade pilgrims to avoid road travel and go to Iran by air, a demand which was rejected by leaders of the minority Muslim community.
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“It was not possible to fully secure 800 kilometers of road travel from Quetta to Taftan,” he said.
Demonstrators, including women and children, staged a sit-in on the city’s busy M.A. Jinnah Road near Numaish Roundabout and chanted slogans against the minister.
“We call on the Pakistan army to step in and oust incompetent politicians,” Syed Ali, a central leader of All Pakistan Shia Action Committee (APSAC), told ucanews.com.
“We have being making demands for the last 25 years for our security. We will now snatch our rights,” he said.
He warned that APSAC would carry out bigger rallies if the ban was not reversed by the government.
Separately, Shia Hazaras also staged a demonstration in Quetta and asked the government to reopen land routes for pilgrims.
Last Thursday, a minority rights group said that increasing attacks on Shia communities reinforces Pakistan's status as one of the world's most dangerous countries for religious minorities.
The report from Minority Rights Group International detailed a disturbing level and nature of violence against Shia Muslims, including the ethnically distinct Persian-speaking Hazara minority, at the hands of Sunni militant groups.
According to the report, last year was the bloodiest for the country's Shias, who make up around 20 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people, with some 700 murdered in targeted attacks and over 1,000 injured.
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