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Pakistani Shi'ite Muslims Attend Rallies As Virus Infections Spike

Pakistani Shi'ite Muslims gather to commemorate the death anniversary of Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of Prophet Muhammad and the first Imam of Shi'ite Muslims, in Lahore on May 15.

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims in Pakistan defied health warnings on May 15 to attend rallies mourning the anniversary of the death of the most revered figure of their faith.

Several thousand people marched through the streets of the southern city of Karachi, currently a hotspot for new coronavirus infections, police official Ahmed Gul said.

More rallies were planned in other cities, including Lahore, a metropolitan area with a population of 10 million where doctors said the infection rate was alarmingly high.

Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims hold processions across the world every year to mourn the assassination of Islam's fourth Caliph, Ali Ibn e Abi Talib.

The government warned against holding rallies this year as the nationwide number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose above 37,000, with a projected peak still weeks away. Community leaders ignored calls from authorities and medics to abandon the planned rallies.

"We have made all the necessary arrangements like wearing face masks. Objections are illogical," said Nasir Shirazi, one of the organisers of the Karachi rally.

The government has faced criticism for allowing mosques to remain open and for failing to cancel a religious gathering in February thought to have caused at least 4,000 infections.

Pakistan began to lift most of its lockdown restrictions last week. The country's civil aviation agency has announced that domestic flights will resume from May 16, though a ban on international flights was extended until May 30.