Pakistan protesters clash with police

2012-09-21 11:03
Pakistani demonstrators gather beside burning tyres as they block a main highway during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Rawalpindi. (Aamir Qureshi, AFP)

Pakistani demonstrators gather beside burning tyres as they block a main highway during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Rawalpindi. (Aamir Qureshi, AFP)

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Islamabad - Demonstrators clashed with police in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Friday as anger over insults to the Prophet Muhammad boiled over despite calls from political and religious leaders across the Muslim world for peaceful protest.

Western diplomatic missions throughout the Muslim world tightened security, with some closing down on expectation of big protests after Friday prayers.

An anti-Islam film made in America has enraged Muslims and led to days of protests across the Muslim world while cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad published in a French magazine on Wednesday were expected to compound the anger.

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said he hopes the violence that has erupted over the film will die down, AP reported him saying on Thursday while in Cuba to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and island religious leaders.

He said the strong reaction to the independent film can be a "teaching moment", both for the United States and for Muslims.

Farrakhan is often an outspoken critic of Washington's policies. He said the US government was not responsible for the short film's content, though he hinted that he felt it does bear some responsibility for what he calls an atmosphere of intolerance that helped engender it.

Egypt's highest Islamic legal official said on Thursday Muslims should follow his example of enduring insults without retaliating.

But the call looked unlikely to calm the outrage.

"An attack upon the Holy Prophet is an attack on the whole 1.5 billion Muslims. Therefore, this is something unacceptable," Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said in a speech to politicians, religious leaders and others.

Five hurt

Pakistan has declared Friday a "Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad".

Protesters took to the streets of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, an old frontier town on the main road to Afghanistan, and torched a cinema and clashed with riot police who tried to disperse them with teargas.

At least five protesters were hurt, a doctor at the city's main hospital said.

In the capital, Islamabad, about 1 000 stone-throwing protesters clashed with police as they tried to force their way to the US embassy on Thursday and the government shut down mobile phone services in more than a dozen cities as part of security arrangements ahead of protests expected on Friday.

The US embassy in Pakistan has been running television advertisements, one featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying the government had nothing to do with the film.

The US and French embassies were closed on Friday in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, which has the world's biggest Muslim population, and diplomatic missions in the Afghan capital, Kabul, were on lock-down.

Tight security

Police in Kabul said they had been in contact with religious and community leaders to try to prevent violence.

"There are some angry demonstrators who will encourage people to violence," senior police officer Mohammad Zahir said. "There will also be Taliban influence in demonstrations too and they may attack the US and other embassies."

The cartoons in France's Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly have provoked relatively little street anger, although about 100 Iranians demonstrated outside the French embassy in Tehran.

Western embassies tightened security in Sanaa, fearing the cartoons could lead to more unrest in the Yemeni capital where crowds attacked the US mission last week over an anti-Islam film made in America.

In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, the Islamist-led government decreed a ban on protests planned on Friday against the cartoons. Four people died and almost 30 were wounded last week when protesters incensed by the movie about the Prophet Muhammad stormed the US embassy.

An Islamist activist called for attacks in France to avenge the perceived insult to Islam by the "slaves of the cross".

Invoking Toulouse killer

Mu'awiyya al-Qahtani said on a website used by Islamist militants and monitored by the US-based Site intelligence group: "Is there someone who will roll up his sleeves and bring back to us the glory of the hero Mohammed Merah?"

He was referring to an al Qaeda-inspired gunman who killed seven people, including three Jewish children, in the southern French city of Toulouse in March.

Condemning the publication of the cartoons in France as an act verging on incitement, Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said on Thursday it showed how polarised the West and the Muslim world had become.

Gomaa said Muhammad and his companions had endured "the worst insults from the non-believers of his time. Not only was his message routinely rejected, but he was often chased out of town, cursed and physically assaulted on numerous occasions.

"But his example was always to endure all personal insults and attacks without retaliation of any sort. There is no doubt that, since the Prophet is our greatest example in this life, this should also be the reaction of all Muslims."

In Libya, where militias that helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi still wield much power, the foreign minister offered a further apology for US ambassador Christopher Stevens' death to visiting US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on Thursday.

Stevens and three other Americans died in an attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by gunmen among a crowd protesting against the film that denigrated the Prophet.

Read more on:    pakistan  |  libya  |  prophet protests  |  french attacks  |  religion  |  benghazi attack
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