PESHAWAR: Angry Christians on Monday denounced the deadly attack at All Saints Church in Peshawar, as the death toll from the bombings climbed overnight to 81.
A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up amid hundreds of worshippers outside a historic church in northwestern Pakistan. The attack, which also wounded over 140 people, occurred as worshippers were leaving after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn.
The bombings also raised new questions about the Pakistani government's push to strike a peace deal with militants to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people.
''What dialogue are we talking about? Peace with those who are killing innocent people,'' asked the Head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Paul Bhatti, whose brother, a federal minister, was gunned down by an Islamic extremist in 2011.
''They don't want dialogue,'' declared Bhatti. ''They don't want peace.''
The death toll on Monday climbed to 81, after three more of the wounded in Peshawar died overnight, according to police official Noor Khan.
''Our state and our intelligence agencies are so weak that anybody can kill anyone anytime. It is a shame,'' said Bhatti.
Christians demonstrated in cities around Pakistan to protest against the violence and demand better protection from the authorities.
A demonstration by charged youths in Peshawar was followed by large-scale protests, some of them violent, in parts of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rahimyar Khan, Hyderabad and Quetta.
In Peshawar, protesters on Sunday placed bodies of the people killed in the blast on the G.T Road, blocking traffic for some time. They burnt belongings of police personnel deployed at the church for security.
Angry relatives of the victims smashed windowpanes of the Lady Reading Hospital in protest against absence of doctors and paramedics and shortage of beds and medicine. They said many of the injured died because of absence and negligence of doctors.
In Karachi, members of the Christian community held protests in Issa Nagri and blocked parts of nearby Gulshan-i-Iqbal, one of the city’s congested residential areas. Peaceful protests were held on Sharea Faisal near Gora Qabristan following the attack, on the National Highway near Malir Burf Khana, Natha Khan Goth, Taiser Town and Pahar Ganj.
In Islamabad more than 100 protesters blocked a major city highway for several hours during the Monday morning rush hour, causing long tailbacks.
In Quetta, members of the Christian community took out a procession and their leaders said the government had failed to curb terrorism and protect the lives of citizens. The protesters holding placards marched from Kasi and Zarghoon roads, set tyres ablaze, and held a rally at the press club after passing through various parts of the city.
They accused the Peshawar administration of not providing adequate security to churches.
In Punjab, members of the community blocked roads and thoroughfares in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan Gujranwala and Rahimyar Khan.
A large number of them converged at the Lahore Press Club, Charring Cross, and The Mall. Yuhanabad, the city’s biggest Christian locality on Ferozepur Road, was the scene of serious protests by people simmering with anger. Several stick wielding blocked both sides of Ferozepur Road by burning tyres. The metro bus route was also blocked, disrupting the bus operation.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the “cruel” attack, saying it violated the tenets of Islam and Pope Francis also spoke out against the violence, calling it “a bad choice of hatred and war”.
Missionary schools around the country would be closed for three days, said Christian leader Nasir Gill.
Churches and other places important to the Christian community in Peshawar have been given extra security, said Khan, a police official.
However, these measures have not been sufficient to appease angry Christians in the country, who want the government to take even stronger steps to protect them.
Many churches, as well as mosques and other religious institutions, already receive some type of police protection. A police officer who was protecting the church where the suicide bombers attacked Sunday was killed in the incident.
Christians are a minority in Pakistan, where roughly 96 percent of the country's 180 million people is Muslim. The rest belong to other religions, including Christianity.