QUETTA: Hundreds of people of Shia Hazara community, including women and children, continued to brave sub-zero temperatures on a road here on Saturday as a government team failed to persuade them to call off their protest.
The protesters carrying coffins of 87 victims of Thursday’s twin blasts began a sit-in on Alamdar Road at 3pm on Friday. They have refused to bury their loved ones until their demands are accepted. They want removal of the Balochistan government, imposition of governor’s rule in the province and deployment of army in Quetta as the city has lately become a killing field for the religious-ethnic minority.
But the government finds it hard to accept the demands, as indicated by Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah in his talks with community elders on Saturday.
It is learnt that Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf might visit Quetta on Sunday to persuade the leaders of the community to call off their protest and burry the bodies.
On the directives of the prime minister, Khursheed Shah along with Governor of Balochistan Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi reached Alamdar Road to hold talks with the leaders of the Qaumi Yakjehti Council.
However, the talks failed as the minister declined to accept the demands of the protesters and the council leaders refused to call off their protest until their demands were accepted.
According to sources, Khursheed Shah argued during the talks that they could not remove the provincial government as it was part of the democratic set-up.
Talking to the media after the talks, Khursheed Shah said that the elected government would not deploy army in the province. “In Quetta, Frontier Corps has been given police powers and asked to help the provincial government in maintaining law and order,” he said.
Referring to the demand for imposition of governor rule, he said law and order situation in Balochistan did not call for imposition of governor rule.
Besides, he said, after the passage of 18th Amendment, the federal government could impose governor rule in a province only on the advice of its chief minister.
He said that the government was ready to accept other demands of the protesters and take measures to protect people from terrorism. “Giving police powers to the FC is part of government’s efforts to provide protection to people of Quetta.”
He said that the government would take stern action against the elements disturbing law and order situation in the city and trying to forcibly impose their school of thought on the people.
He said that President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Ashraf were in touch with the governor of Balochistan on the Quetta situation, and asked Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani to immediately return from abroad.
He said that PPP itself was a victim of terrorism and had lost its leader Benazir Bhutto and a number of activists in terrorist attacks. “The PPP-led government has been making efforts to uproot terrorism,” he said.He said that President Zardari gave priority to Balochistan and took keen interest in measures to remove sense of deprivation among the people of the province.
However, Governor Magsi said that the provincial government had lost the right to rule the province after the Alamdar Road incident that had claimed the lives of a large number of innocent people.
He said that general elections were solution to all the issues and added: “Let the elections be held on time.”
Provincial ministers Tahir Mehmood and Maulvi Sarwar, Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad and Home Secretary Capt (retd) Akbar Hussain Durrani were also part of the government’s negotiation team.
The sit-in continues in freezing atmosphere as mercury has dropped to minus four degrees Celsius in the city which was also battered by rain on Thursday night.
The protest has been prompted by a suicide attack in a crowded snooker club followed by a car bomb blast, killing 104 people and injuring at least 100. The banned Lashkar-i-Jhangwi has claimed responsibility for the attacks.