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Pakistan Christian protests over church attacks turn violent

world Updated: Mar 16, 2015 21:47 IST
Pakistan Christians


Thousands of Christians rioted in the Pakistani city of Lahore Monday, smashing property and vehicles as they clashed with police in a second day of protests against twin Taliban suicide bombings of churches that left 17 dead.

Sunday's attacks in the Youhanabad neighbourhood of the eastern city sparked mob violence in which two other suspected militants were killed, with Christians smashing up cars and a bus station in a rare show of anger from the persecuted minority group.

Protesters again turned violent on Monday, despite the presence of 1,000 police officers, who fired water cannon in an effort to contain the rampaging crowds.

Muhammad Usman, a senior bureaucrat, said paramilitary Rangers forces were later called in to try to restore the peace.

Tariq Butt, a doctor at General Hospital, told AFP one more person was killed and 12 injured after they were run over by a speeding car that was attempting to flee the riots.

Police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar told AFP that a female suspect had been detained in connection with the incident.

The fresh violence comes after the death toll from Sunday's bombings -- the deadliest attack on Pakistan's Christians in more than a year -- rose to 17 after three more died from their injuries, according to hospital officials.

Demonstrators expressed their anger at the killings, many arming themselves with clubs while others carried giant crosses as they took to the streets of Youhanabad on Monday.

"We are on the roads to get justice, we want protection," said Maqbool Bhatti, a 50-year-old government employee who criticised the authorities for failing to take adequate security measures to safeguard Christians.

"There was no proper security on Sunday, the government should protect all churches," he told AFP.

Churches 'soft targets'

Christians volunteers meanwhile established their own security check-points, tying ropes across the roads leading into Youhanabad and patting down worshippers who had come to offer prayers for the dead ahead of funerals planned for Tuesday.

Some carried placards with slogans such as "Why do you kill us?", "Stop killing Christians," and "Let us live".

Protests were also held in Karachi, while special prayers were planned at churches throughout the country and Christian groups and members of civil society held candle-lit vigils.

Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan's mostly Muslim population of 180 million, have been targeted recent years, often over allegations of profanity regarding the Koran or the Prophet Mohammed.

Sunday's attacks were the worst on the community since a devastating double suicide-bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September 2013 killed 82 people.

That came months after more than 3,000 Muslim protesters torched some 100 houses as they rampaged through Joseph Colony, another Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, following blasphemy allegations against a Christian man.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the Taliban had turned their attention on places of worship and other "soft targets" because ongoing military operations had hampered their ability to fight the army.

"Due to military operation the noose has been tightening around militants and now it has significantly contained them," he told a committee.

"They are now hitting the softest targets like churches, mosques and schools. It shows their frustration."