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January 14, 2013

Pakistan sacks provincial government

QUETTA, Pakistan — Pakistani leaders dismissed the government of southwest Baluchistan province early today in response to the demands of protesters angry about an attack on minority Shiite Muslims there that killed 86 people.

In another part of the country, a roadside bomb killed 14 Pakistani soldiers.

Over the past three days, thousands of Shiites have blocked a main road in the Baluchistan capital of Quetta with dozens of coffins of relatives killed in the twin bombing of a billiards hall in the city Thursday. They demanded the provincial government be dismissed and that the army take over responsibility for the city.

Last year was the deadliest ever for Shiites in Pakistan, with over 400 dead in targeted killings. Violence has been especially intense in Baluchistan, home of the largest number of Shiites in the country.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said in a televised address shortly early today that the governor has been made head of Baluchistan province, replacing the chief minister. Also, paramilitary forces will receive police powers and launch an operation against militants behind the billiards hall attack.

The prime minister flew to Quetta on Sunday after other efforts to pacify the protesters failed. Human rights organizations have accused the Pakistani government of not doing enough to protect Shiites targeted by radical Sunni Muslims who believe they are heretics.

The billiards hall attack was carried out by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian militant group allied with al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban.

Taliban militants and their allies have also been waging a bloody insurgency against the Pakistani government over the past several years.

A roadside bomb hit a Pakistani army convoy Sunday in a mountainous militant stronghold in the northwest, killing 14 soldiers, one of the deadliest attacks against the army in that sector, intelligence officials said.

The North Waziristan tribal area is a major trouble spot that the military has been reluctant to tackle. The remote region is home to Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida militants at war with the government. It is also used as a sanctuary by other militants who have focused their attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

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