QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani mourners buried on Saturday the bodies of 11 slain coalminers that had been put on a highway in the city of Quetta for six days in an anti-government protest.
The miners, from the minority Shi’ite Hazara sect, were killed last Sunday by Islamic State militants in their shared residential room, after which mourners refused to bury them to demand better protection from sectarian attacks.
Tens of thousands attended the funeral in a cemetery of the southwestern city, where more than 500 other Hazaras have also been buried in more than a decade of attacks, Reuters journalists said.
The Quetta sit-in, which continued through freezing nights, sparked protests in other cities demanding that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visit the mourners.
On Friday, Khan called that “blackmail”, drawing widespread criticism by activists, opposition parties and others on social media.
But the countrywide sit-ins began to disperse after the government and protesters reached an agreement late on Friday. It included security guarantees for the Hazaras and that mourners bury the bodies before the prime minister visited them.
After the burial, Khan travelled to Quetta where he met families close to the protest site. He told them the attack on the miners was meant to stoke conflict between the two major sects of Islam, Sunnis and Shi’ites, to destabilise Pakistan.
He also thanked the families for accepting the government’s request to bury the bodies.
Most of the miners were impoverished seasonal migrants. Seven were from neighbouring Afghanistan, its consulate said.
Despite Afghanistan’s desire to repatriate some of the bodies, Pakistani police said all had been buried in Quetta.
(Reporting Gul Yousafzai in Quetta; Writing by Umar Farooq and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)