QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Hundreds of Pakistani Shiites gathered Saturday to bury 11 coal miners from the minority Hazara community who were killed by the Islamic State group, ending a week of protests that sought to highlight the community’s plight.
Protesters staged a sit-in after the militant group captured and shot the miners last Sunday in Machh, an area some 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s troubled Baluchistan province.
Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived Saturday afternoon in Quetta and was expected to meet with a delegation of mourners and Shiite leaders, according to his office. Khan’s visit came after Shiite demonstrators across the country — who blocked roads in major cities — demanded he visit the grieving minority community in Quetta and assure their protection.
On Friday, Khan appealed to the protesters not to link the burial of the coal miners to his visit to Quetta, vowing that he would visit afterward. Under Islamic tradition, burials take place as quickly as possible after death.
“No premier of any country should be blackmailed like this,” Khan said in televised remarks.
Dozens of Shiites rallied Friday night in the capital, Islamabad, denouncing Khan for calling the mourners blackmailers.
The premier sent a group of ministers and top officials to negotiate with the Hazara community, leading the mourners to agree to a funeral.
Violent attacks against Shiite and other religious minority groups remain a problem in Sunni-majority Pakistan.
Before coming to power in 2018, Khan often criticized Pakistan’s leaders for not doing more to stop attacks on the minority Hazara community, and for not rushing to Quetta to offer condolences after similar assaults.
IS militants abducted, then shot and killed the miners on Sunday in Baluchistan. Police video of their bodies revealed the miners had been blindfolded, and their hands tied behind their backs before being shot.
The IS affiliate promptly claimed responsibility, and authorities have been raiding militant hideouts to track down and arrest those who orchestrated the killings. Khan has insisted Pakistan’s neighbor India was behind the violence in Baluchistan.