x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pakistani Christians protest as church attack toll rises to 81

Christians demonstrate in towns and cities across Pakistan, including Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar to demand better protection for their community.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan // Christians protested across Pakistan on Monday against the government’s failure to protect their community after a suicide bombing at a church killed more than 80 people.

The attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar, 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.

Christians demonstrated in towns and cities around Pakistan, including Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar to demand better protection and protest against the violence.

More than 600 protesters blocked a major motorway in Islamabad for several hours during the morning rush hour, burning tyres and causing long tailbacks.

In Peshawar, about 200 demonstrators took to the streets, smashing windows at the main Lady Reading hospital, where many of the victims were treated, and blocking the main Grand Trunk road.

In front of All Saints Church, more than 100 people gathered to chant slogans demanding justice and attacking the national government for failing to protect Christians. All Saints Church is a part of the Church of Pakistan, which was formed in 1970 following a union between Lutherans, Scottish Presbyterians, Methodists and the Anglicans, the website said.

The protesters had harsh words for the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party runs the provincial government in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Protesters shouted abusive slogans against Mr Khan, who they accuse of being soft on militants, including regular chants of “Imran is a dog”.

“Imran Khan and his senior deputy have failed to protect Christians at their praying centres,” said Khalid Shahzad, who lost five family members in the attack.

Paul Bhatti, the president of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) who was minister for national harmony in the last government, said Christian schools would close for three days of mourning.

The attack was believed to be the deadliest ever to target Pakistan’s Christian minority.

Senior Peshawar police official Najeeb-ur-Rehman said security around churches in the city would be stepped up, but survivors of the bombing spoke of their fears of further violence.

“We had very good relations with the Muslims, there was no tension before that blast, but we fear that this is the beginning of a wave of violence against the Christians,” Danish Yunas, a driver who was wounded in the attack.

“We fear there will be more of this in the future.”

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by the Associated Press