Thousands of Shia Muslim worshipers – many of whom do not wear masks – gathered in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday for a religious procession, stoking fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

The federal government had issued a notice banning mass gatherings commemorating the death of Prophet Muhammad’s companion and son-in-law, Imam Ali, but local negotiations with religious leaders failed.

“I have attended this procession every year for as long as I can remember,” said Ali Kazmi, 28, who took part in Lahore, where officials estimated between eight and ten thousand worshipers participated. “They’re just trying to stop the mourning ceremonies and the Shia processions using different excuses.

Members of the Shiite sect represent about 20% of the 220 million inhabitants of the Islamic Republic. Smaller processions were also held in major cities across the country.

Pakistan struggles to contain a third wave of infections, with more than 8.00,000 cases and 18,000 deaths reported.

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