Pakistan blasts: Angry protests after Peshawar church attack

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Members of the Pakistani Christian community hold a placard as they shout slogans during a protest rally to condemn Sunday"s suicide attack in Peshawar on a churchImage source, Reuters
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Protests erupted in cities across Pakistan, as anger about the bombings swelled

Protests and vigils have taken place across Pakistan as Christians demand better protection after suicide blasts killed at least 80 people at a church.

Sunday's double suicide bombing is thought to be Pakistan's deadliest attack against Christians.

Many burials have taken place and candlelight vigils have also been held in memory of the victims.

Two Islamist militant groups with Taliban links said they ordered the attack to hit back at US drone strikes.

Political and religious leaders condemned the attack, but angry crowds nevertheless took to the streets, denouncing the state's failure to protect minorities.

Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar saw demonstrations against the attack, with protesters also demanding the authorities do more for minorities.

One AFP report said that more than 600 protesters had blocked a major highway in Islamabad for several hours on Monday and 2,000 later gathered outside parliament.

In Peshawar itself, the city where the attack took place, protesters smashed windows at the hospital where many victims were treated, reports said.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool, in Peshawar, described the grief that wracked the scene where the coffins bearing the dead were lined up.

Hundreds of women were sitting beside the coffins, clutching them and sobbing, the men hugging and crying, their children looking bewildered, our correspondent reports.

Condemnation of the attack has been pouring in. The government has announced three days of mourning.

Christian groups have said special prayers will be held for the victims. Pope Francis has condemned the atrocity, saying those who carried out the attack made a wrong choice, of hatred and war.

Sunday Mass attacked

Speaking in London on his way to New York to attend the UN's General Assembly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the attack did not bode well for any intended talks with militants.

And the Pakistani politician, Imran Khan, whose party governs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, called it an attack on humanity.

He has been criticised for being soft on Taliban militants and favouring talks instead of military action.

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The BBC's Shahzeb Jillani is in Pakistan where protesters told him that they will not 'tolerate' violence against minorities

The attack happened around midday at the historic All Saints church in Kohati Gate, a bustling area of Peshawar, when two bombers blew themselves up as hundreds of worshippers who had attended Sunday Mass were leaving.

Witnesses said they heard two blasts, the second more powerful than the first. Suicide vests were later found outside the church, officials said.

Reports say the walls of the church was dimpled from the force of the ball bearings that had been packed into the explosives, in an effort to cause as much damage as possible.

More than 120 people were wounded in the assault.

It is unclear exactly who was behind the attack, with two militant groups claiming responsibility. Jandullah and the Junood ul-Hifsa - both with past links to the Pakistani Taliban - said they had ordered the double bombing in retaliation for US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal north-west.

The Pakistani Taliban, however, condemned the attack. Correspondents say the group frequently denies responsibility for attacks which take a heavy civilian toll.

It is the latest in a series of attacks on Pakistani Christians, who represent about 1.6% of the country's overwhelmingly Muslim population.

One provincial lawmaker, Fredrich Azeem Ghauri, said there were about 200,000 Christians in the province, of whom 70,000 lived in Peshawar, Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

Image source, AFP
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There have been angry protests around the country against the bombings in Peshawar
Image source, Reuters
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The attackers struck as hundreds of worshippers left the All Saints church in a busy part of the city
Image source, AP
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More than 120 people were wounded in the assault
Image source, AFP
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There were scenes of grief as relatives gathered to identify their loved ones
Image source, AFP
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Security has been strengthened outside a number of Pakistani Christian churches following Sunday's attack
Image source, AP
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The Pakistani Christian minority feels vulnerable to militant attacks
Image source, Reuters
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And the anger of the community has also been stoked, with many taking to the streets in protest for a second day

Correspondents say the attack has outraged many people, but there is also a sense of helplessness about the government's apparent inability to prevent such atrocities.

Militants in Pakistan have long made religious minorities one of their targets and recent years have seen spiralling sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis, with Sunni militants often targeting the Shia community.

There have been outbreaks of communal violence in areas where Muslims and Christians co-exist. In March, Muslims in Lahore torched dozens of Christian homes when responding to an allegation of blasphemy.

But this latest attack is being described as the first assault of its kind on Christians in recent memory.