QUETTA, Pakistan: Members of a largely Shiite ethnic community in Pakistan have agreed to bury the bodies of their relatives, pilgrims who were killed in a bomb attack earlier this week.
Grief-stricken Hazara mourners had refused to inter their dead after a roadside blast on Tuesday hit a bus around 60 kilometres (40 miles) west of Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, killing 24 Shiite pilgrims.
Over a two-day protest, up to 2,000 people, most of them Shiites, demonstrated in freezing temperatures on Quetta's busy Alamdar Road with the bodies of the bombing victims, refusing to bury them until action is taken against militants.
There were also demonstrations in Karachi and the Punjab cities of Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi, against what protesters called the "genocide" of Pakistani Shiites.
Refusing to bury bodies is an extreme statement in Islamic society, where it is customary to inter the dead as soon as possible.
A delegation of federal ministers was flown to Quetta -- the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, which has been the focus of growing sectarian violence in Pakistan -- on Thursday to persuade the angry demonstrators to end the protest.
The delegation, lead by the interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, held meetings with representatives of the Hazara community and leaders of Shiite religious parties.
Abdul Khaliq Hazara, chairman of Hazara Democratic Party, said after negotiations that demonstrators had agreed to end their protest.
"We thank all the people who held protest demonstrations across the country to express their solidarity with us and we appeal to them to end their protests peacefully," he added.
He said the bodies would be buried on Friday morning.
Shiite leaders across the country also called for an end to demonstrations after the successful negotiations, with protestors in Rawalpindi dispersing peacefully.
The announcement came late Thursday, as leaders of the Hazara Shiite religious parties flanked by the government delegation addressed the protestors in Quetta.
Nisar said a targeted operation would be conducted against those behind the bombing.
"We will bring the terrorists to book," he told the grief-stricken gathering, saying all efforts would be made to restore the order in the province.
"I stand by the Hazara community in this hour of grief and trial," he said.
Shiites in Quetta staged similar protests last year after two devastating bomb attacks targeting their community, prompting Islamabad to sack the provincial government.
The militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), regarded as the most extreme Sunni terror group in Pakistan and accused of killing hundreds of Shiites since its emergence in the 1990s, has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack.
A Human Rights Watch report this week said LeJ operated "virtual impunity across Pakistan, as law enforcement officials either turn a blind eye or appear helpless to prevent attacks".
More than 400 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks across the country in 2013, the rights group said.
Shiites make up around 20 percent of Pakistan's population, which is largely Sunni Muslim.