Pakistani protesters refuse to bury dead, demand protection

Updated 19 February 2013

Pakistani protesters refuse to bury dead, demand protection

QUETTA, Pakistan: Thousands of Pakistani women refused for a second day yesterday to bury victims of a devastating bomb attack on their community, demanding protection against record levels of sectarian violence.
Demonstrators poured onto the streets across the country, shutting down the largest city Karachi and closing the road from the capital to Islamabad airport, in angry protest at Saturday’s bombing that killed at least 81 people in Quetta.
Up to 4,000 women blocked a road in the southwestern city, vowing to continue their sit-in that began late Sunday until the authorities take action against the extremists behind the attack which also wounded 178 people.
Two girls aged seven and nine were among the dead after the bomb, nearly a ton of explosives hidden in a water tanker, tore through a crowded market in a neighborhood dominated by ethnic Hazara Shiite Muslims.
The attack came just over a month after suicide bombers killed 92 people at a snooker hall in another Hazara neighborhood of Quetta. Protesters are furious at the authorities’ failure to tackle rising attacks on Shiites.
Volunteers armed with automatic rifles and pistols yesterday guarded the streets of Hazara town, the scene of Saturday’s attack, an AFP reporter saw.
Police said they were in talks to end the protest. But a local Shiite party leader, Qayyum Changezi, said they “will not bury the dead until a targeted operation is launched.”
After the Jan. 10 snooker hall attack, Shiite mourners staged a similar protest for four days. They only buried the dead after Islamabad sacked the provincial government and imposed governor’s rule in an apparent attempt to improve law and order.
The banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility both for Saturday’s attack and the snooker hall bombing, as well as a Feb. 1 attack on a Shiite mosque in northwest Pakistan that killed 24.
There is anger and frustration at the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authorities to tackle the LeJ.
In Quetta Amin Shaheedi, the vice-president of the Shiite Wahdatul Muslemeen party, demanded control of the city be handed over to the army.
“Terrorists are roaming freely and we are not given any protection. Our protest will continue till we get protection,” he told reporters.
Violence between Pakistan’s majority Sunni Muslims and Shiites, who account for around a fifth of the country’s 180 million people, has surged in recent years, with the southwestern province of Baluchistan a particular flashpoint.
Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial heart Karachi came to a halt as public transport workers and traders stopped work yesterday after a Shiite party called a protest strike, residents said.
Schools were closed, traffic was off the roads and attendance in offices was thin. Several political and religious parties have backed the strike call.
Protesters on the edge of the capital Islamabad also shut down the main road leading to the airport, witnesses told AFP.
In the second largest city Lahore, hundreds of Shiites including women and children demonstrated to press demands for military action against extremists in Quetta.
Attacks targeting Shiites in Pakistan have claimed almost 200 lives already this year, compared with more than 400 in the whole of 2012 — a year which Human Rights Watch described as the deadliest on record for Shiites.
Pakistan is due to hold a general election in coming months but there are fears that rising sectarian and Islamist violence could force the postponement of polls.
In the northwest, suicide bombers stormed the offices of a top Pakistani official yesterday and killed five people.
Mutahir Zeb, the government’s representative in the semi-autonomous tribal district of Khyber, was unhurt. But his deputy was seriously wounded in the attack as officials in the city of Peshawar discussed preparations for the elections.

US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

Updated 5 min 41 sec ago

US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

  • Brian Hook led the Trump administration's unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the Iran nuclear deal
  • Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran

WASHINGTON/JEDDAH: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named Brian Hook as the new 'special representative' for Iran, who will head up an 'Iran Action Group.'

Pompeo declared he is forming the dedicated group to coordinate and run US policy toward Iran as the Donald Trump administration moves ahead with efforts to force changes in the country's behavior after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Officials said the group will be headed by Brian Hook, who is currently the State Department's director of policy planning. Hook led the Trump administration's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before the president decided in May to pull out of the accord.

Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as "malign activities" in the region. 

In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Shiite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups. It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran's human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.

The administration is warning Iran's oil customers that they will face US sanctions in November unless they significantly reduce their imports with an eye on eliminating them entirely. 

It has also told businesses and governments in Europe that they may also be subject to penalties if they violate, ignore or attempt to subvert the re-imposed US sanctions.

In his new job, Hook is to oversee implementation of the administration's entire Iran policy, the officials said. Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran and maintain they only want to see the government change course. Pompeo created a similar group dedicated to working on North Korea policy while he was director of the CIA.

Hook is expected to be replaced as policy planning chief by Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic and adviser to several Republican presidential candidates who served on President Donald Trump's national security transition team and very briefly at the State Department after Trump took office, according to the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, two leading German firms are the latest to pull out of projects in Iran as the sanctions take a toll on foreign investment. Rail operator Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom said they would end their involvement because firms investing in Iran will be barred from doing business with the US. Oil firm Total, and carmakers PSA, Renault and Daimler have said they will also withdraw.

Harvard scholar and Iranian-affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said the regime in Tehran is in deep trouble at home as the sanctions, which came into effect last week, are working.  

“More companies and firms are halting their business deals with Iran,” he said. “Foreign investors are also withdrawing. This is significant due to the fact that many foreign investors have invested billions of dollars in Iran’s debt market as Tehran’s economy is cash-strapped.

“On the surface, Iran’s leaders are brushing aside the sanctions as trivial, but Tehran is significantly wary as the sanctions are affecting its economy negatively. If the Iranian regime does not alter its destructive behavior, the sanctions will cripple its economy.”

The first wave of sanctions focuses on preventing Iran from purchasing US dollars and precious metals, and targeting the automotive and other sectors. A second wave in November will target energy, the main source of Iranian state revenues.

(With AP)