Thousands of Shiite Muslims have staged protest rallies across Pakistan after a suicide bombing at a mosque in the country's south killed at least 59 people. A day of mourning has been declared in the local region.
Thousands of mourners have filled the streets of Shikarpur to hold a mass funeral for victims of the explosion that ripped through one of the city's Shiite mosques on Friday.
Television footage showed huge crowds of mostly Shiite protesters waving black flags and beating their chests, as they offered prayers for the dead and called for the perpetrators to be arrested. Elsewhere, protesters burned tires, blocked off streets and held sit-ins.
At least 59 people were killed and dozens more seriously wounded when the bomb went off during prayers.
Investigators confirmed on Saturday that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who detonated the explosives "in the middle of the mosque" surrounded by hundreds of worshippers.
"The bomber selected a place in the mosque that would cause huge destruction," local police official Raja Umar Khitab told news agency Agence France-Presse, adding that the bomb had been loaded with steel pellets and ball bearings to cause maximum damage.
Following the attack in Shikarpur - a small city in the Sindh province, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of the port of Karachi - the provincial government declared Saturday a day of mourning. Schools, shops, offices and public transport were shut down across the region.
Pakistan fighting 'war on terror'
Pakistan has experienced a surge in sectarian violence in recent years, mainly characterized by radical Sunni Muslim groups carrying out attacks on minority Shiites who make up around 20 percent of the population. The Sunni militant group Jundullah, which has links to the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for Friday's mosque bombing.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he was "appalled by such vicious targeting of people on account of their religious affiliation."
Speaking in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the whole nation was in mourning, and vowed the government would "win the war against terrorism at any cost."
In recent months Pakistan has stepped up efforts to stop such attacks. In December it ended a six-year moratorium on the death penalty in terror-related cases, set up military courts to try terror suspects and pledged to crack down on militant groups.
The measures followed the massacre by Taliban gunmen of about 150 people, mainly children, at a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
nm/cmk (AFP, AP)