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Pakistani Shi’ites demanding protection

Say leaders do little to prevent sectarian attacks

Shi’ite Muslims protested Monday against the bombing that killed 89 people in Quetta, Pakistan, on Saturday.

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Shi’ite Muslims protested Monday against the bombing that killed 89 people in Quetta, Pakistan, on Saturday.

ISLAMABAD — Thousands of Shi’ite Muslims staged protests across Pakistan on Monday, demanding that the government and military protect them from Sunni extremists behind a bombing that killed 89 people Saturday in the southwestern city of Quetta.

Shi’ites, a religious minority in Pakistan, pointed to the attack, which followed a similar devastating bombing in January, as further evidence of Islamabad’s indifference to what many describe as a pogrom against Shi’ites in Baluchistan Province.

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The bombings have been aimed in particular at ethnically Hazara Shi’ites whose distinctive features have made them frequent targets in recent months. Sunni militant groups do not consider Shi’ites to be Muslims.

Many families of Saturday’s bombing victims are refusing to bury their dead until the Pakistani army takes action against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militia that asserted responsibility for Saturday’s bombing and for the January blast that killed more than 90 people.

In a separate development Monday, suicide bombers wearing police uniforms stormed the office of a senior political official in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing six people and wounding several others, authorities said.

The sectarian killings and subsequent unrest present yet another challenge to the strategically vital, nuclear-armed nation already embroiled in a war against an indigenous Taliban insurgency.

‘‘The government has failed to protect the lives of people and maintain peace,’’ Maulana Amin Shaheedi, deputy secretary of the main political organization representing Shi’ite groups in Pakistan, said at a news conference in Quetta, the provincial capital.

The paramilitary Frontier Corps is nominally in charge of security in Baluchistan, a huge, sparsely populated province that constitutes about 40 percent of Pakistan’s land mass. But Shi’ite activists and their supporters want the main military to end the attacks.

More than 400 Shi’ites were killed in Pakistan in 2012, the worst year on record, according to Human Rights Watch. More than 125 of those were killed in Baluchistan, the group said.

The act of leaving the bombing victims’ corpses unburied, which families did last month as well, resonates deeply, because Islamic tradition calls for the dead to be buried as soon as possible.

Members of both religious communities have denounced the bombings. Shi’ites staged demonstrations Monday in cities including Karachi, the country’s largest metropolis, and in the capital, Islamabad. Police estimated that 15,000 protesters assembled in Quetta.

On Monday, President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement saying he has requested that the governor ‘‘take all necessary measures for the security of the Hazaras.’’

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