Three Hindu traders have been abducted by unidentified armed men in the restive Balochistan province of southwest Pakistan, the latest in a series of crimes targeting the minority community.
The traders -- Denesh Kumar, Retesh Kumar and Ratan Kumar -- were kidnapped at a spot about 140 km from provincial capital Quetta on Friday night.
The incident triggered protests against the government's continued inability to provide any sort of safety to residents of the province, The Express Tribune reported on Sunday.
A protest by a representative body of Hindus was widely supported by political parties and business associations.
The kidnapped men belong to the same family.
The traders were abducted while they were on their way back home from a family function.
Their van was intercepted by unidentified men at Jiwa intersection of the RCD Highway in Kalat district.
The men took the traders hostage at gunpoint, Balochistan Levies official Abdul Rahim said.
"The kidnappers came in two black four-wheel-drive vehicles and a white sedan," he said.
Though no one has approached the relatives of the abducted men, it is believed they were being held for ransom.
"It could be a case of kidnapping for ransom," Rahim said.
Mukesh Kumar, the brother of Ratan Kumar, is convinced they were kidnapped for ransom.
He said the Hindu community is an easy target for criminals. He added that "no one had called to make any demands yet."
Mukesh said the traders had left Khuzdar at about 5 pm on Friday and were abducted an hour later.
"The kidnappers coerced the driver of the van to get out of the vehicle, which they then drove away with," he said.
The van was later found in Surab area with flat tyres.
The women of the family were still in the vehicle, Mukesh said.
Following the kidnapping, a shutter-down strike was observed in Kalat on Saturday.
The strike was called by the Hindu Panchayat and supported by the Shaheri Action Committee, Traders Union and all major political parties.
All commercial activity remained suspended as shops and markets were closed through the day.
Traders and members of the Hindu community blocked key roads and shouted slogans against the government and police for failing to protect citizens.
They said they would prolong their protest if the government did not use all its resources for the safe recovery of the abducted men.
The Quetta-Karachi highway was blocked for nearly five hours and NATO supply vehicles were disrupted.
The report said there had been a "marked increase" in cases of kidnapping for ransom in Surab, the hometown of a provincial home minister, in recent years.
Hindus were seen as "easy targets" and the priest of Kali Mandir, a historic Hindu temple, was kidnapped from the same region but was released after a ransom of Rs. 80 lakh was paid.