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By Saud Mehsud
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan, Nov 25 (Reuters) - A bomb killed at least five people and wounded about 70 near a Shi'ite procession in Pakistan on Sunday, police said, as the sect braced for major sectarian attacks by Sunni militants during a critical event in their religious calendar.
Television footage showed the wounded being carried away in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan, where a bomb targeting Shi'ites killed at least seven people, including four children, on Saturday.
The bomb, planted in a shop beside a street market, also wounded five security officials, said senior police official Malik Mushtaq.
A doctor at a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan said five people were killed and 70 wounded. "There is a lack of ambulances and not enough hospital beds," he said. "People brought many of the injured to the hospital on rickshaws."
Hardline sectarian Sunni groups, which are becoming increasingly dangerous, have threatened more attacks as the Shi'ite morning month of Muharram comes to a climax on Sunday.
Security officials say organisations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) are stepping up attacks on Shi'ites, who they regard as non-believers, in a bid to destabilise nuclear-armed, U.S. ally Pakistan and establish a Sunni theocracy.
Al Qaeda, which is close to LeJ, pushed Iraq to the brink of a sectarian civil war several years ago with large-scale suicide bombings of Shi'ites.
More than 300 Shi'ites have been killed in Pakistan so far this year in sectarian conflict, according to human rights groups. The campaign is gathering pace in rural as well as urban areas such as Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city.
Shi'ites account for up to 20 percent of this nation of 180 million.
The growing death toll has discouraged some Shi'ites from taking part in processions this year during one of their most sacred rituals, when people flagellate themselves with chains and other items to commemorate the martyrdom of the grandson of Islam's prophet, who was killed during the battle of Karbala.
"If I were to compare with last year, the fear has definitely increased," said Sadia Fatema, 28. "Just last night me and my mother were asking my father and brother if they really had to go to the procession. We are worried."
Others say the pressure has made Shi'ites stand up to Sunni hardliners.
"There is fear, but there is also anger and defiance among Shi'ites," said one, who asked not to be named.
"Shi'ites never felt like a minority in Pakistan but now they are slowly being turned into a real minority. And Shi'ites will not let this happen."
Washington, a critical source of financial aid for cash-strapped Pakistan, has been pressuring the South Asian nation to crack down on militants based in tribal areas who cross the border to attack American-led forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, meanwhile, faces major domestic security challenges from a wide range of groups, including the Taliban, who capitalise on issues such as unemployment, official corruption and poverty to boost recruitment.
(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)