Thousands of protesters thronged in the streets of Lahore, stopping traffic and blocking roads while denouncing the Pakistani government. Approximately 5,000 protesters hit the streets in the Pakistani city in a second day of protests that followed the March 15 suicide bombings at Christian churches. At least 15 people were killed in the separate blasts, while 70 were wounded. The blasts occurred simultaneously St. John Catholic Church and Christ Church in Youhanabad, a neighborhood in Lahore where more than 130,000 Christians live. Shortly after the blasts, thousands of enraged Christians blocked roads, vandalized a bus station and lynched two men suspected of being accomplices of the attackers.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said bombings constituted attacks on the state of Pakistan. "Our Christian community has rendered invaluable services to the motherland particularly in the social sector and we look upon them with honor and pride," said a press release. “The emotions of anger and grief shown by the Christian community in the aftermath of this tragic incident have strengthened the government's resolve to counter the menace of terrorism,” he said. Protests were also held in Hyderabad, Faisalabad, Multan, Peshawar and other cities. The Punjab and Sindh provincial governments announced a day of mourning for March 16.
Punjab home minister Colonel Shuja Khanzada said suicide bombers detonated explosive devices and killed themselves and the worshippers after being challenged by security personnel. “The whole nation shares the grief of our Christian brethren and an investigation has been started into the incident. Persons involved in this conspiracy will soon be taken to their logical end,” Khanzada said.
For his part, Punjab police chief Mushtaq Sukhera said that the bombers did not gain entry to the churches. “Had they entered the churches, they would have caused massive devastation considering around 800 worshippers, including women and children, were inside,” he said.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a fanatical Muslim sect, took credit for the killings and vowed to further its campaign to enforce Islamic Sharia law throughout the Muslim-majority country.
On March 15, protests were held at Essa Nagri, Qayumabad, Shara-e-Faisal and other areas in Karachi. At the press club, about 300 demonstrators gathered to condemn the Nawaz Sharif government and and called for the arrest of the perpetrators. “We strongly condemn this inhuman attack on the Catholic Church, in which many Christians have been martyred,” said Pastor Amjad Farooq, founder and head of Faith Prayer Ministries, an evangelical and humanitarian organization. “We demand that the governments of Punjab and Islamabad rein in terrorists, who are carrying out attacks with impunity,” he said.
Human rights activists held a vigil at Numaish Chowrangi in Karachi to express solidarity with the families of victims.
Speaking for the Catholic Church, Karachi archdiocese spokesman Fr. Saleh Diego said “We condemn the events, which have taken place at Youhanabad in Lahore. This is not something human beings are supposed to do.” All Catholic missionary schools in Pakistan, which serve children regardless of faith, will be closed on March 16 in protest. 
Pope Francis, speaking on March 15, condemned the attacks and accused the world of "seeking to hide" the persecution of Christians. "It's with pain, much pain that I was told of the terrorist attacks against two Christian churches in Lahore in Pakistan, which have caused numerous deaths and injuries," the Pope said after his Sunday prayers with the faithful gathered at St Peter’s Square. "These are Christian churches and Christians are persecuted, our Christian brothers are spilling their blood simply because they are Christians," he said. "I implore God ... that this persecution against Christians — that the world seeks to hide — comes to an end and that there is peace," he added.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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