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Pakistani military blamed in deaths

Protesters claim forces killed 15 villagers in raid

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Several thousand protesters shouting antimilitary slogans displayed the bodies of 15 local villagers on Wednesday in northwestern Pakistan, claiming they were shot dead in their homes by security forces in an overnight raid.

The outcry came as thousands of supporters of a fiery Muslim cleric continued their antigovernment protest for a third day in Islamabad, paralyzing key areas of the capital. The interior minister warned that the government could take ‘‘targeted action’’ if the demonstrators did not leave the city by Thursday, but later backed off the threat after he was contradicted by the president.

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The display in the northwest of the 15 bodies, which were wrapped in blankets, recalled a protest last week in the southwestern city of Quetta. There, the relatives of dozens of Shi’ite Muslims killed in a bomb attack refused to bury the victims for four days until the government met their demand to dissolve the government of surrounding Baluchistan Province. Islamic custom dictates the dead should be buried as soon possible.

The villagers in the latest incident were killed late Tuesday in an area known as Khyber Agency. It is part of the tribal region where the Pakistani military has been waging a campaign against Islamist militants.

An official with the Frontier Constabulary, which operates in the area, blamed militants for killing the villagers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

There have been previous attacks by militants disguised in military uniforms, although such incidents are not common.

About 3,000 people gathered outside the house of the governor of northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Peshawar. They said gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed homes and fatally shot the villagers.

The protesters called on the military to end its operations in the area.

Human rights groups have accused the Pakistani military of widespread human rights abuses in their counter­insurgency campaign in the tribal areas.

In a December report, Amnesty International claimed the Pakistani military regularly holds people without charges and tortures or mistreats them in custody. The London-based group said some detainees do not survive and their bodies are returned to their families, or dumped in remote areas.

The Pakistani military rejected Amnesty’s allegations, calling the report ‘‘a pack of lies.’’

In Islamabad, the cleric leading the protest in the capital addressed his supporters in a marathon four-hour speech. Tahir-ul-Qadri again called for the removal of the government and pilloried the country’s politicians as corrupt thieves. He said they were more interested in lining their pockets than dealing with pressing problems like severe energy and gas shortages.

‘‘The country is like a goat for them that they are sharing and eating,’’ said Qadri, sitting in a bulletproof container as he faced thousands of protesters packed into the main avenue running through Islamabad. The crowd was smaller than the previous two days but attracted at least 20,000, according to an Islamabad police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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