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16 killed, 20 hurt in bomb attack on procession in Pakistan


LAHORE A BOMB ripped through a Shiite procession killing 16 marchers and wounding over 20 others in central Pakistan on Sunday, police said, as the spectre of sectarian violence again loomed.

No group claimed immediate responsibility for the carnage in Punjab province, but Shiites have often been targeted in Pakistan by extreme Sunni groups that regard them as apostates.

Shiites account for about 20 percent of Pakistan’s mostly Sunni Muslim population of 160 million.

The bomb hit as Shiites were marking the 40th day of mourning the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussain.

Dunya TV news broadcast footage of several dead and bloodied bodies lying on the ground. Pictures showed a cloud of grey smoke rising in the sky with people beating their chests and heads and crying for help.

“The evidences showed that it was a bomb blast, we are examining whether it was a planted one or a timed device,” Suhail Zafar, a senior police official, told reporters in Rahim Yar Khan district.

Mohammad Mushtaq, a senior government official, told the private Dunya TV that 16 people had been killed and 20 wounded. The injured had been rushed to local hospitals, he added.

“We are trying to calm the situation,” Mushtaq said, after angry and tearful marchers attacked a police station.

“We have talked with their leaders and the situation is now under control,” Zafar said. Nabeela Ghazanfar, a spokesman for Punjab police, said 25 people were wounded in the bomb blast.

There had been confusion at first as to the cause of the explosion, with one senior police official, Abid Qadri, saying it was caused when a flag from the procession hit a power wire.

Fingers were pointed at fanatics in Pakistan after an unprecedented bomb attack targeting Shiite Muslims on December 6 in neighbouring Afghanistan killed more than 80 people.

The twin blasts in Kabul and in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif prompted fears that Afghanistan could descend into the sort of sectarian violence that has pitched Shiites against Sunnis in Iraq and Pakistan.

More than 4,000 people have died in outbreaks of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite groups since the late 1980s in Pakistan.

On September 20, gunmen killed 26 Shiite pilgrims after ordering them off their bus in Mastung, a district 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Quetta.

It was the deadliest attack on Shiites in Pakistan since September 4, 2010, when a suicide bomber killed at least 57 people at a rally, also in Quetta.

Gunmen then killed another three Shiites on the outskirts of the city who were going to collect relatives who died in the first incident.

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