|24 September, 2013
PESHAWAR: Angry Christians protested across the country on Monday to demand better protection after a devastating double suicide bombing at a church killed more than 80 people.
The attack on All Saints Church in Peshawar after a service on Sunday is believed to be the deadliest ever to target Pakistan’s Christian minority. Christians demonstrated in towns and cities around the country, including Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar to protest against the violence and demand the authorities do more to protect them. A Muslim man was killed in Karachi when scuffles broke out at a Christian protest outside a mosque, police said.
More than 600 protesters blocked a major highway in Islamabad for several hours during the Monday morning rush hour, burning tyres and causing long tailbacks, an AFP photographer said. Later around 2,000 people gathered to protest outside parliament. In Peshawar, around 200 demonstrators took to the streets, smashing windows at the main Lady Reading hospital, where many of the victims were treated, and blocking the main Grand Trunk Road.
In front of All Saints church, more than 100 people chanted slogans demanding justice and attacking the government for failing to protect Christians. And they had harsh words for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan whose party runs the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Protesters shouted abusive slogans against Imran. “Imran Khan and his senior deputy have failed to protect Christians at their praying centres,” Khalid Shahzad, who lost five family members in the attack, told AFP.
“The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Imran Khan are just making slogans, there is nothing practical (to protect us). They do not have any sympathy for minorities.” The death toll from the blasts rose to 82 on Monday, according to medics, with around 130 in total wounded. Senior Peshawar police official Najeebur Rehman said security around churches in the city would be stepped up, but survivors of the bombing spoke of their fears of further violence.
“We had very good relations with the Muslims – there was no tension before that blast, but we fear that this is the beginning of a wave of violence against the Christians,” Danish Yunas, a Christian driver wounded in the blast, told AFP. The 400 or so worshippers were exchanging greetings after the service when the bombers struck, littering the church with blood, body parts and pages from the Bible. The walls were pockmarked with ball bearings that had been packed into the bombs to cause maximum carnage in the busy church.
A faction linked to the Pakistani Taliban on Sunday claimed the attack, saying it was to avenge US drone strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in the country’s tribal areas along the Afghan border. But on Monday the main spokesman for the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group said they were not responsible. “We haven’t done this nor do we attack innocent people,” Shahidullah Shahid, the main TTP spokesman told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location. “Whenever we carry out an attack we claim it, but the Taliban are not involved in this attack. It was an attempt to sabotage the atmosphere of the proposed peace talks.”
Normal life was disrupted in most parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, particularly in capital Peshawar. The victims of the attack were buried in various graveyards of the city, while relatives, friends and members of civil society organisations rushed to hospitals to enquire about the 145 injured. The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had announced a three-day mourning across the province. All missionary educational institutions and businesses remained shut in the city and streets were deserted.
The Christian community and civil society organisations brought out rallies in Peshawar, Nowshera, Bannu and DI Khan and strongly condemned the act of terrorism. Thousands of people participated in rallies in Peshawar from Kohatai, WAPDA House, Peshawar University Campus, Press Club, Tambwano Mor and Safaid Dheri against the killing of innocent people and called upon the government and security agencies to bring the perpetrators of the incident to justice.