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ISLAMABAD – Battered by bombings that have killed scores of people, Pakistan's Shiite Muslims on Wednesday took their protests to the Pakistani capital. Meanwhile in the majority Shiite Kurram tribal region, thousands of residents have been staging daily sit-ins.
The daily demonstrations began last week after twin bombings killed more than 70 people in Parachinar, the center of the Kurram region along the Afghan border. Hundreds were wounded and police killed three protesters earlier in the week, officials said.
Mohammad Hussein Turi, a social worker from Parachinar, said protesters are demanding greater protection for Pakistan's minority Shiites, particularly in the tribal region. The area has been targeted several times in the recent past.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group, claimed last week's twin bombings.
Dozens were killed in bombings in the Kurram region in January and again in March. There have also been sporadic smaller attacks on Shiite Muslims in Kurram and Pakistani Shiites have been targeted elsewhere in the country.
Both Lashkar-e-Janghvi and the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan have taken responsibility for attacks targeting Shiites.
"We need peace," said Turi, adding that protesters in the Kurram tribal area want the Pakistani army to establish a constabulary of local Shiite men — rather than the current Frontier Constabulary of tribesmen from other regions
Pakistan's tribal belt runs the length of its border with neighboring Afghanistan and is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the border. While the majority is Sunni Muslim, Shiites dominate in the Kurram tribal region.
Carrying banners and shouting "stop killing innocent people" protesters in Islamabad, including a dozen women, marched toward the parliament to demand better protection.
Ershad Hussein, a resident of Parachinar who was among the demonstrators in Islamabad, said the Kurram region is a crossing over point for those belonging to the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State as well as Afghan Taliban insurgents.
Shiite tribesmen's outrage toward the central government escalated after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cut his holiday to Britain short because of an oil tanker fire in southern Punjab province, which killed more than 150 people. Sharif, whose political power base is in Punjab province, offered the victims compensation and visited the injured.
In contrast, Turi said there were no visits to the Kurram region by government officials in the wake of the twin bombings — generating widespread criticism and accusations of official neglect on social media.