Riots Spread To Skardu As Shia Leader Dies
13 January 2005
Islamabad: Fresh sectarian riots flared throughout the country after a prominent Shia leader died in hospital Thursday, with angry mourners torching a religious school and ransacking an airline office. Authorities slapped a curfew on Skardu where the latest violence broke out and reinforced a similar six-day-old restriction in Gilgit. Police across the country were placed on high alert after the death of Agha Ziauddin, who was shot in an ambush in Gilgit on Saturday, sparking a weekend of unrest in which 15 people died and 35 were wounded. Shia leaders called for nationwide rallies Friday to press the government to arrest the killers of the 45-year-old prayer leader, while small protests also erupted in Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi, police and witnesses said. Ziauddin died at the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi, his spokesman Sikandar Gilani told AFP. Officials later said a helicopter taking his body to Gilgit was forced to return due to bad weather. One of Ziauddin's bodyguards who was injured in the attack also died Thursday in the same hospital. Two other guards were killed instantly. In Skardu, local officials said protesters burned down a seminary belonging to the rival Sunni sect and wrecked a Pakistan International Airlines office. Some shops were also damaged. Gilgit has been under a shoot- on-sight curfew since Saturday. The restrictions were relaxed for two hours for the first time on Tuesday but an AFP correspondent said the situation was again very tense. Investigators said one of the alleged killers, named by police as Mukhtar Ahmad, who died in a shoot-out with Ziauddin's guards, belonged to a banned Sunni militant group. Local Shia leader Sheikh Mirza Ali appealed to the local people to remain calm and allow Ziauddin to receive his last rites peacefully. Authorities have tightened security at both Shia and Sunni Muslim places of worship and also around key leaders of the two communities, police said. 'Security has been geared up across the country and police have been placed on high alert to ensure peace,' Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema told AFP. Ziauddin, the leader of the Shia Anjuman-e-Imamia Party, was prayer leader of the central mosque in Gilgit for the past 15 years and left behind three sons, two daughters and a widow. Our correspondent adds: MMA Senior Vice-President Allama Syed Sajid Ali Naqvi, meanwhile, announced three-day mourning on the death of Aga Ziauddin Rizvi and termed it a great national loss. Talking to The Nation, Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi said that the mission for which Aga Ziauddin Rizvi had laid down his life would be continued. He said that the government should take stock of the situation. He expressed his concern over the laxity with which the government was dealing with the sectarian issues. Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi announced three- day mourning and appealed to the people to remain peaceful and record their concern over the killing of their leader. NNI adds: Federal Minister for Information Sheikh Rashid Ahmad and Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Madkhoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat have expressed deep grief and sorrow over the demise of Agha Ziauddin. They prayed to Allah Almighty to grant eternal peace to the departed soul and fortitude to the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss. Faisal Saleh Hayat assured that the whole government machinery was trying to arrest the terrorists involved in the case and they would be given exemplary punishment.