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Protests Erupt Over Killing of 11 Policemen in Pakistan - 2003-06-09

Thousands of people in Pakistan's western Baluchistan province took to the streets to protest the shooting deaths of at least 11 police trainees. Authorities are blaming the murders on tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Police in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta have detained at least 18 suspected Sunni Muslim militants in connection with a massacre of police trainees.

Witnesses say two men with automatic assault rifles fired on a vehicle carrying the police recruits as they drove to a training center. In addition to those killed, several trainees were wounded in the attack.

Law enforcement authorities think the attack is connected to sectarian tensions between the country's majority Sunni Muslims and the minority Shiite Muslim community. They point to the fact that all of the recruits killed were members of the Shiite Hazara ethnic group.

News reports say those arrested overnight in connection with the shootings were suspected of being Sunni militants.

On Monday, there were reports that thousands of Hazaras paraded in the streets after collecting the bodies of those killed.

Professor Rashid Khalid of Pakistan's Quaid-i-Azam University said cases of sectarian violence occur regularly in Pakistan, but that this incident is receiving special attention because the victims were police trainees.

It was the third such attack on Shiites in Quetta in just over a week. There has been sporadic violence between the two religious communities in the area over the past several years.

Professor Khalid said, however, that relations are normally smooth between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

He notes that the country's main alliance of religious parties - the MMA - includes both Shiite and Sunni members.

On Monday, shopkeepers in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, kept their businesses closed to show solidarity with the victims.