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‘No Blackmail!’ Pakistan PM Tells Shi'ite Hazara Protesters

People hold placards as sit-in protests continued in Karachi on January 7 to demand justice following the killings of coal miners from Pakistan's Shi'ite Hazara minority.
People hold placards as sit-in protests continued in Karachi on January 7 to demand justice following the killings of coal miners from Pakistan's Shi'ite Hazara minority.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has reiterated his call on Shi’ite ethnic Hazara protesters to bury the bodies of miners killed nearly a week ago in an attack in the southwestern province of Balochistan, telling them not to "blackmail” the head of government.

Khan made the comments on January 8 as sit-in protests over the killings continued for a sixth day in and around the provincial capital, Quetta, and the port city of Karachi, disrupting air, railway, and road traffic.

Demonstrations calling on the federal government to ensure the security of the Hazaras were also held in the country's northwest.

Thousands of people have rallied since 11 coal miners were found beheaded some 50 kilometers from Quetta early on January 3, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Protesters Continue Sit-In After Killing Of Hazaras In Pakistan
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Despite freezing temperatures, residents and relatives of slain miners have set up a makeshift camp on a highway on the outskirts of Quetta.

The demonstrators are refusing to bury the victims until, among other things, Khan visits the protest site and guarantees their protection.

But during a ceremony in Islamabad on January 8, Khan warned: "You don't blackmail the prime minister of any country like this.”

“First, bury the dead. If you do it today, then I guarantee you that I will come to Quetta today," he added.

Under Islamic tradition, burials should take place as quickly as possible after death.

Meanwhile, as many as 25 sit-in protests were held on January 8 in different parts of the economically powerful city of Karachi, where major roads remained blocked.

More than 50,000 trucks have been stranded on highways and at two port terminals for the past four days because of the blockades, Rana Aslam, president of the Goods Carrier Association, told RFE/RL.

Waheed Ahmad, chairman of the All Pakistan Exporters’ Association, said more than 400 containers of fruits have been stranded on highways and warehouses.

“We are at risk of a loss of around $4.6 million,” he said.

According to a spokesman for national flag-carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the protests have led to the cancelation of as many as 51 domestic and international flights.

Pakistan Railways has said intercity trains have also suffered long delays.

Dozens of people also staged rallies on January 8 in the northwestern city of Peshawar and Parachinar, a mainly Shi'ite town in Kurram tribal district.

Shi’a have in the past been targeted in both Afghanistan and Pakistan by Sunni militant groups.

Resource-rich Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, has been plagued by sectarian violence, attacks by Islamist militants, and a separatist insurgency since 2004.

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