By Gul Yousufzai
QUETTA, Pakistan. (Reuters) - Gunmen on Wednesday shot dead six guards protecting a Spanish cyclist in a violent and remote area of western Pakistan where a bus bomb killed 24 Shi'ite pilgrims a day earlier, police said.
The cyclist, who suffered minor wounds, had crossed into Pakistan's western province of Baluchistan from Iran, they said. Six guards were wounded.
Police said they did not know why he was cycling through such a dangerous area. He was assigned the escort by security forces because the province is plagued by kidnappers, Taliban militants, a violent separatist insurgency, sectarian killers, paramilitary death squads and drug traffickers.
Two young Czech women taking the same route by bus were kidnapped in March and are still being held.
The cyclist and his guards were travelling through Mastung district when gunmen attacked.
"Six of our security men have been killed trying to save the Spanish cyclist, who has suffered minor injuries," said Shafqat Anwar Shawani, the assistant police commissioner for Mastung district. One attacker was also killed, he said.
In the same district on Tuesday, a bomb targeting a bus killed 24 Shi'ite pilgrims, many of them women and children. Such sectarian attacks are increasingly common in Pakistan, where Shi'ites make up 20 percent of the 180 million people.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Shi'ites protested against the bus bombing by sitting in the road alongside the bodies of the dead in the provincial capital of Quetta.
The community held similar protests demanding protection after bombings in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, killed around 200 people, mostly Shi'ites, last year.
(Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie)