Quetta sit-in: Agreement reached

Quetta (Dawn/ANN) - A six-member parliamentary delegation of the Pakistani government reached an agreement with Quetta sit-in participants on Tuesday, after which nationwide protests were called off.

The government representatives accepted most of the demands made by the sit-in participants, with the notable exception of calling in the army in Quetta. The major demand of the protestors accepted by the government was that targeted operations would be conducted with the involvement of army personnel.

Earlier on, relatives and members of the Hazara community had refused to bury the victims of the Kirani road incident claiming that the protests would continue until Quetta was handed over to the army. However, upon appeal of the Shia Ulema, the Kirani Road protesters have now decided to call off the sit-in.

The Shia Ulema announced in a press conference that burial of the blast victims would now be held on Wednesday.

Protesters all over the country have demand that the army be called in Quetta and take immediate action against the extremist militant group, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, which in recent months has targeted Shias, mainly the Hazara community of Balochistan.

The team comprised of Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Member of National Assembly (MNA) Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, PPP MNA Nadeem Afzal Chan, PPP Senator Sughra Imam, PPP MNA Yasmeen Rehman and Federal Minister for Political Affairs Maula Bakhsh Chandio.

The sit-in had been called by the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) , Balochistan Shia Conference and Milli Yakjehti Council, who held successful negotiations with the government delegation.

Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said that the targeted operations had already commenced in the province since the previous night.

Thousands of Hazara men, women and children had continued their protest sit-in for the third consecutive day. They had refused to bury those who died in Saturday's explosion on Kirani Road, Hazara Town, unless action was taken against the perpetrators.

The delegation convinced the protesters to bury the victims during the negotiations.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf sent the parliamentarians to Quetta to negotiate with the protesters and ordered an "immediate launch of a targeted operation" against those responsible, his office said without elaborating.

Local officials in Quetta announced earlier Tuesday that security forces had killed four men and arrested seven including an alleged mastermind of Saturday's bombing in an "ongoing" raid on the edge of the city.

Police said another 172 people had been rounded up in the surrounding province of Balochistan in the past two days, including the provincial chief of extremist Sunni outfit, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and they were now being questioned.

The president of the Shia Ulema Council, Sajid Naqvi, had warned the protests could intensify if they were not happy with Tuesday's meeting with the delegation.

But Daud Agha, chairman of the Balochistan Shia Conference which is one of the groups taking part in the protest, had expressed satisfaction at the raid and said a time would be announced for the burials to begin.

Another senior Shia leader, Sikandar Gilani, had said earlier that the matter could be resolved if the army gave a guarantee they would launch an operation against the extremists.

The youngest victim of Saturday's blast was a five-year-old boy who died along with his mother when the bomb, containing nearly a tonne of explosives, demolished a shopping centre.

A similar protest, after suicide bombers killed 92 people at a Hazara snooker hall in Quetta on January 10, lasted for four days until Islamabad sacked the provincial government and imposed governor's rule.

FORMER PROVINCIAL LEADER ARRESTED

Personnel of Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan arrested former provincial minister Ali Madad Jattak in Hazar Ganji area of Quetta, an official said.

FC personnel also arrested 15 of Jattak's body guards and recovered weapons from his possession.

"FC seized 12 SMGs, three vehicles and other weapons from his possession", a senior police official said on condition of anonymity .

He said Jattak has been arrested following allegations levelled by Hazara community against him.

"Hazara community had blamed him for supporting activists of a defunct militant group", the official said without mentioning the name of the group.

Jattak is the member of assembly from ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. He was elected as deputy parliamentary leader in the Balochistan Assembly and had the portfolio of communication and works department in Nawab Aslam Raisani's cabinet.

(With input from agencies)

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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