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Shi’ites protest as they bury their dead in Pakistan

A Shi’ite man held a photograph of his brother — killed in a bomb attack Saturday in Quetta — as his coffin was carried.

Naseer Ahmed /Reuters

A Shi’ite man held a photograph of his brother — killed in a bomb attack Saturday in Quetta — as his coffin was carried.

QUETTA, Pakistan — Pakistani Shi’ites buried their kin killed in a massive bombing last weekend in the southwestern city of Quetta, but the combined funeral on Wednesday was marred by gunfire as both protesters and police fired into the air.

Shi’ite Muslims have increasingly come under attack in this Sunni Muslim-dominated country where many extremists do not consider them to be true Muslims.

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After Saturday’s bombing killed 89 people — the second mass-casualty assault on Shi’ites in Quetta in as many months — their relatives refused to bury the dead for three days and demanded government action. The tension evident at the funeral suggested that recent government attempts to address the problem may not be enough.

Mourners on Wednesday lowered the bodies of the victims, wrapped in white cloth, into a long line of graves dug at a local cemetery.

But a group of about 100 female relatives tried to halt the funeral because they believed the government hadn’t met their demands, namely that the army engage militant groups responsible for the attacks.

The melee escalated as the women tried to block a main highway close to the graveyard, said Shi’ite community leader Qayum Changezi. Angry relatives of the deceased pelted police and government officials with stones, Changezi also said.

Both police and relatives fired into the air — the relatives in anger and the police to disperse the crowd — said police officer Fayaz Sumbal.

Mourners scattered after the gunfire but the burial continued.

‘‘We had refused to bury our dear ones with a hope that the government will take concrete steps by arresting the killers, but so far no attacker has been arrested,’’ said Mohammed Mahdi, 16, who lost his father in the bombing.

There’s been no indication that the army would take control of the city, another longtime demand of protesters. But the government announced on Monday that paramilitary forces began an operation against the anti-Shi’ite militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for Saturday night’s blast, and other militant groups.

The government also replaced the top police officer in Baluchistan on Tuesday. And Fayaz Sumbal, deputy police chief in Quetta, has been ordered to replace the chief of police operations.

Shi’ites and human rights groups have criticized police and paramilitary forces under control of the Interior Ministry in Quetta for failing to protect the minority sect, which is about 20 percent of the country’s population of 180 million.

They link the authorities’ apparent apathy to past connections between the country’s military and anti-Shi’ite militants, and they also allege that the militants are seen as less of a threat than the Taliban because they are not targeting the state. Political parties have also relied on banned sectarian groups to deliver votes in elections.

It remains to be seen what impact the government’s recent actions will have on the problem of sectarian violence in Quetta. Suspected militants are notoriously difficult to prosecute in Pakistan, and it’s unclear if the operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and others will be sustained.

Last month, 86 Shi’ite Muslims in Quetta were killed in a major attack that eventually led the country’s prime minister to sack the chief minister of Baluchistan province and his Cabinet. But Saturday’s attack showed that militants were still a potent force in the province.

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