Shiites, Sunnis clash in Pakistan; curfew imposed

Security personnel have been deployed in sensitive localities and residents have been asked to remain indoors until further notice

Shiites, Sunnis clash in Pakistan; curfew imposed

World Bulletin/News Desk

Authorities in the northeastern district of Bhakkar, a remote town of Punjab, the country's most populous province, imposed a curfew on Saturday after deadly clashes between Shiite and Sunni groups left at least ten people dead and scores injured within the last 24 hours.

"A curfew has been imposed in different parts of the district, especially violence-hit localities, for an indefinite period in order to avert further loss of life and property," District Coordination Officer Mumtaz Zahid Bhakkar told Anadolu Agency.

Security personnel have been deployed in sensitive localities and residents have been asked to remain indoors until further notice, he added.

All educational institutions, markets and bazaars have been closed, as security forces patrol roads and streets.

"The situation is improving after the curfew," local journalist Malik Meharuddin told AA. "However, citizens fear more clashes once the curfew is lifted if adequate security measures are not taken."

Clashes flared up after members of Ahl-e-Sunnah wal Jamat (ASWJ), the new name of the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) group, organized a rally after Friday prayers to protest the killing of one of their members.

The rally was fired upon, allegedly by people associated with outlawed Shiite groups, injuring some ASWJ members and triggering armed clashes between the two sides.

Three Shiites and one Sunni were killed in the ensuing violence.

The situation deteriorated when the bodies of five ASWJ activists, who had earlier been abducted by unknown individuals in different parts of the district, surfaced in the district town of Kotla Jam on Friday night.

News of the bodies spread like wildfire, with armed protesters taking to the streets, firing into the air and smashing police vehicles.

Infuriated protesters blocked the road leading to adjacent districts for several hours, burning tires and pelting vehicles with stones.

ASWJ leader Maulana Manzoor Ukasha heaped blame for the killing of his group's members on rival Shiite groups and the police, which he said had failed to provide adequate security at the rally despite repeated requests.

"If the killers of our workers are not arrested forthwith, we cannot guarantee peace in the district," he told reporters.

Syed Safeer Shahani, a leader of Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, an umbrella group bringing together different Shiite organizations, refuted the accusations.

"We believe in peace; we will stick to that despite provocation," he told AA.

He too blamed police and the local administration for not taking suitable measures to contain the violence.

"The district administration should not have allowed a banned organization to organize the rally, as the situation has reached this point because of that rally," he argued.

The district of Bhakkar, which is located 250 kilometers from Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab has a history of sectarian clashes.

Sunnis account for 65 percent of the population in the district and Shiites accounting for the remaining 35 percent.

Meanwhile, 8 patients were killed due to a fire in a private hospital in Punjab provinces' Sargodha city. The fire broke out in the generator room and spread to the whole hospital in a very short time.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Ağustos 2013, 14:23