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Pakistani Shi'a End Protests, Allow Funerals For Slain Hazara Miners

Members of Shi'ite Hazara community gather around coffins of victims during a protest on the outskirts of Quetta on January 8.

Shi'ite Muslims in Pakistan have ended nearly a week of sit-in protests and allowed the burials of 11 ethnic Hazara coal miners killed by militants from the extremist Islamic State (IS) group.

The funerals on the outskirts the southwestern city of Quetta on January 9 marked the end of protests that highlighted the plight of the Shi'ite minority Hazara community.

Tens of thousands attended the funerals at a cemetery where more than 500 other Hazara have been buried in more than a decade of attacks.

The Quetta sit-in, which continued through freezing nights, also sparked protests in other cities to demand that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visit the mourners.

Khan drew widespread criticism from activists, opposition parties, and others on social media on January 8 when he called the protests a form of "blackmail."

But the countrywide sit-ins began to disperse after the government and protesters reached an agreement late on January 8.

The agreement included security guarantees for ethnic Hazara and a promise from mourners that they would bury the bodies of the victims before the prime minister visited them.

After the burials on January 9, Khan traveled to Quetta and met families of the victims close to the protest site.

He told them the attack on the miners was meant to stoke conflict between the two major sects of Islam, Sunnis and Shi'a, to destabilize Pakistan.

The miners were captured and shot dead on January 4 in Machh, about 50 kilometers south of Quetta. Thousands of people had rallied in several Pakistani cities after the slayings to demand greater protection for Shi'ite Muslims.

Burials are meant to take place as quickly as possible after death under Islamic tradition. But the protesters refused to allow the 11 victims to be buried until the killers were arrested and Khan personally visited them to assure their security.

Shi'ite Hazara have in the past been targeted by Sunni militant groups, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Quetta is the capital of resource-rich Balochistan Province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. It has been plagued with thousands of casualties since 2004 linked to sectarian violence, attacks by Islamist militants, and a separatist insurgency.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, and dpa
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