PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani Christians rallied Monday to denounce the deadliest attack ever in this country against the religious minority as the death toll from the church bombings the day before climbed to 85.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up amid hundreds of worshippers outside the historic All Saints Church in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sunday.
A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombings, saying they would continue to target non-Muslims until the U.S. stops drone attacks in Pakistan.
The bombings raised new questions about the Pakistani government's push to strike a peace deal with the militants to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people.
"What dialogue are we talking about? Peace with those who are killing innocent people," asked the head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Paul Bhatti, whose brother, a federal minister, was gunned down by an Islamic extremist in 2011.
The death toll reached 85, after seven more of those wounded in Peshawar died overnight, according to the commissioner of Peshawar, Sahibzada Anees.
Protesters blocked roads around the country, burning tires on one of the main roads into the capital, Islamabad, as they demanded government protection.
"Our people have been killed ... Nobody seems to bother about us. No one apprehended the killers," said Aqeel Masih, one of the protesters.
Clashes broke out between Christian protesters and Muslims Monday evening, leaving one person dead, in the southern port city of Karachi, according to Police Chief Shahid Hayat. He said police fired tear gas and guns in the air to try to disperse the crowd.
Missionary schools around the country were closed for three days, said Christian leader Nasir Gill.
Churches and other places important to the Christian community in Peshawar have been given extra security, said police official Noor Khan.
Many churches, as well as mosques and other religious institutions, already receive some type of police protection although many Christians say that is too little. A police officer stationed at the church where the suicide bombers attacked was killed.
Christians are a minority in Pakistan, where roughly 96 percent of the country's 180 million people is Muslim. The rest belong to other religions, including Christianity. Christians have often been attacked by Sunni Muslim militants, who view them as enemies of Islam.
Christians often face discrimination as well. They often find it difficult to get access to education or better jobs and are relegated to menial labor jobs such as collecting garbage or cleaning streets.
The U.S. State Department condemned the bombing, and said that the United States "remains concerned about continuing sectarian violence in Pakistan that has brought heartache to Sunnis, Shia, Christians, and members of other communities across the country."
In other violence, a bomb exploded Monday near a police patrol in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing four people, including three policemen, said police officer Abdullah Khan.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Baluchistan is home to both Islamic militants and nationalists fighting the government.
Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Abdul Sattar in Quetta and Adil Jawad in Karachi contributed to this report.