QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Members of the Pakistani Shiite Hazara community Sunday threatened to hold widespread protests if the government did not arrest within 48 hours the people responsible for a massive bombing that killed 81 people in a southwestern city.
Saturday's blast at a produce market in Quetta underlined the precarious situation for Shiites living in a majority Sunni country where many extremist groups don't consider them real Muslims. Some 160 people were also wounded in the blast.
Most of the dead and wounded were Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan over a century ago. Shiite Muslims, including Hazaras, have often been targeted by Sunni extremists in Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, as well as in the southern city of Karachi and northwestern Pakistan.
The vice chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, a political group representing Hazaras, said Sunday that the party was giving the government 48 hours to find those responsible for the attack and arrest them.
"Otherwise, the Hazara community will start a protest in Pakistan and the world over," said Azizullah Hazara.
Graves had been dug but at least 60 of the dead from the Saturday evening blast still hadn't been buried Sunday evening. Religious and community leaders were set to meet Monday morning to decide whether to bury their dead or to protest the bombing by refusing to bury the bodies as they did after a similar attack in January.
After 86 people died in that bombing, which hit a billiards hall, prompting Shiites to camp out in the street for four days alongside the coffins of their loved ones. Eventually the country's prime minister ordered a shake-up in the regional administration, putting the local governor in charge of the whole province.
"So far, we are not going home. We are not burying the dead," said Dawood Agha, a Shiite leader in Quetta.
The violence touched a chord among Pakistanis elsewhere in the country, with small-scale protests being held in Islamabad, Karachi and at least 12 other cities.
At the Islamabad rally, hundreds of Shiites and various civil rights groups demanded the government crackdown on the al-Qaida-linked militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We all know it is LeJ," said Hasan Raza, a Shiite activist. "We want the government to act now and take action against the terrorist group."
The large-scale attack comes as the government, headed by the Pakistan People's Party, is preparing for elections this spring, and it adds to the widespread perception that the government has done little to improve security or the economy during its five-year tenure.
Whether that anger will translate into widespread opposition to the PPP come election time remains to be seen. Baluchistan, the largest but most sparsely populated province, is a long way from places like Punjab and Sindh provinces where most of voters live. The protests calling for government action have generally been small scale so far and limited to mostly liberal activists.