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Grief And Fury Roil Lahore, Pakistan, One Day After Deadly Blast


In Pakistan, it was a day of grief and anger following yesterday's suicide bomb attack at a public park in Lahore. The blast on Easter Sunday left more than 70 people dead and 300 injured. At sunset tonight, a crowd covered for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

MCEVERS: NPR's Philip Reeves was there, and he's with us now. And Phil, we're hearing people at that vigil. What are they saying?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, they're saying that an attack on one of us is an attack on us all. Muslims and Christians, including many children, were killed and injured in this bombing, but the people who claimed responsibility for it, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, say they were targeting Christians who were out in the park enjoying Easter Sunday. So this vigil's expressing solidarity with Pakistan's Christian minority who've long been the victim on sectarian attacks.

MCEVERS: So solidarity, mourning - are there other emotions at play as well?

REEVES: Well, people here are generally outraged by this attack, and a lot of them seem frustrated with the government. For more than a year and a half, the Pakistani military and the security forces have been prosecuting a big offensive against Islamist militant groups.

After yesterday's bombing, many people here are now complaining that this big crackdown happened elsewhere but not here. Lahore is capital of Pakistan's most populous province, Punjab, and people in Punjab are saying that the authorities haven't done nearly enough.

And that actually also applies to a much-vaunted national action plan that was introduced by the government after the Taliban slaughtered more than 130 school kids in late-2014. Samson Salamat, who's chairman of a pressure group called Tolerance, was at today's vigil, and he says that around here, nothing's actually happened.


SAMSON SALAMAT: The government need to be serious. There has been lip service for over the last year after they made this national action plan, but there is no implementation. They ban outfits even they are operating openly. At least they could apprehend them. We would like to give the message to the government that, how many lives do you want to sacrifice more? And enough should be enough.

MCEVERS: Some pretty tough words for the government - how's the government responding?

REEVES: Well, the Pakistani military who wield great power around here claim that they've today carried out five raids in Punjab. They say they've arrested what they describe as terrorists and their facilitators and seized what they call a huge cache of arms and ammos.

This announcement, though, was derided on social media by Pakistanis who wanted to know, why now? I mean, if you know where these alleged terrorists were, why not round them up before?

And so that's kind of adding to the sense of public frustration and also to the pressure of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif has responded tonight with a TV address to the nation in which he vows to eliminate terrorism and to protect all Pakistan citizens.

MCEVERS: You say the prime minister's under pressure. How serious is that pressure?

REEVES: Well, his situation's complicated by a standoff that's going on in the capital, Islamabad. Several thousand religious extremists are sitting outside Parliament after marching in yesterday, and they're protesting the execution of a man who was recently hanged for murdering a progressive provincial governor who challenged Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

This is part of a large and rather significant confrontation between the government and the hard-line religious right, and it's a showdown that could further destabilize this country.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Lahore. Thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.
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