19 killed in prophet protests in Pakistan

Pakistani protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans at a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Pakistan has blocked cell phone service in major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during a national day of protest against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

Pakistani protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans at a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Pakistan has blocked cell phone service in major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during a national day of protest against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

A Pakistani protestor hurls back a tear gas canister fired by police during clashes that erupted as the demonstrators tried to approach the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Over a dozen people were killed as tens of thousands protested against the film around the country after the government encouraged peaceful protests and declared a national holiday — 'Love for the Prophet Day.' Demonstrations turned violent in several Pakistani cities. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

A Pakistani protestor hurls back a tear gas canister fired by police during clashes that erupted as the demonstrators tried to approach the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Over a dozen people were killed as tens of thousands protested against the film around the country after the government encouraged peaceful protests and declared a national holiday — "Love for the Prophet Day." Demonstrations turned violent in several Pakistani cities. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

A Pakistani police officer fires tear gas canister toward protestors during clashes that erupted as protestors tried to approach the U.S. embassy Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 in Islamabad, Pakistan. Protests by tens of thousands of Pakistanis infuriated by an anti-Islam film descended into deadly violence on Friday, with police firing tear gas and live ammunition in an attempt to subdue rioters who hurled rocks and set fire to buildings in some cities. Four people were killed and dozens injured on a holiday declared by Pakistan's government so people could rally agains the video. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

A Pakistani police officer fires tear gas canister toward protestors during clashes that erupted as protestors tried to approach the U.S. embassy Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 in Islamabad, Pakistan. Protests by tens of thousands of Pakistanis infuriated by an anti-Islam film descended into deadly violence on Friday, with police firing tear gas and live ammunition in an attempt to subdue rioters who hurled rocks and set fire to buildings in some cities. Four people were killed and dozens injured on a holiday declared by Pakistan's government so people could rally agains the video. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan's "Day of Love for the Prophet" turned into a deadly day of gunfire, tear gas and arson.

Thousands angered by an anti-Muslim film ignored pleas for peaceful rallies and rampaged in several Pakistani cities Friday in battles with police that killed 19 people and touched off criticism of a government decision to declare a national holiday to proclaim devotion for the Prophet Muhammad.

The film, which was produced in the United States and denigrates the prophet, has outraged many in the Muslim world in the 10 days since it attracted attention on the Internet, and there were new, mostly peaceful protest marches in a half-dozen countries from Asia to the Middle East.

But it is Pakistan that has seen the most sustained violence, driven by a deep well of anti-American sentiment and a strong cadre of hard-line Islamists who benefit from stoking anger at the U.S. The new deaths brought to at least 49 — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — linked to violence over the film.

Analysts accused the Pakistani government of pandering to these extremists by declaring Friday to be an official holiday — calling it a "Day of Love for the Prophet." Officials urged peaceful protests, but critics said the move helped unleash the worst violence yet caused by the film, titled "Innocence of Muslims."

In addition to those killed, nearly 200 others were injured as mobs threw stones and set fire to cars and movie theaters, and battled with police who responded with tear gas and gunfire.

"The people were just waiting for a trigger," said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.

In an attempt to tamp down the anger, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad purchased spots on Pakistani TV on Thursday that featured denunciations of the video by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. But their comments, which were subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language, apparently did little to moderate the outrage that filled the country's streets.

Police fired tear gas and live ammunition to push back the tens of thousands of protesters they faced in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and the major cities of Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. They were successful in preventing the protesters from reaching U.S. diplomatic offices in the cities, even though the demonstrators streamed over shipping containers set up on major roads to block their path.

The demonstrators, who were led by hard-line Islamist groups, hurled rocks at the police and set fire to their vehicles. They also ransacked and burned banks, shops, cinemas and Western fast-food restaurants such as KFC and Pizza Hut.

Clinton thanked the Pakistani government for protecting the U.S. missions in the country and lamented the deaths in the protests.

"The violence we have seen cannot be tolerated," she said, speaking alongside Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Washington. "There is no justification for violence."

The deadliest violence occurred in the southern port city of Karachi, where 14 people were killed, said hospital officials. More than 80 people were injured, said the top government official in the city, Roshan Ali Shaikh. At least three of the dead were policemen, one who died when hundreds of protesters attacked a police station.

"We are all ready to die for Prophet Muhammad," said Karachi protester Mohammad Arshad. "We want to show the world that Muslims are one and united on the issue."

Five people were killed and 60 wounded in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said police official Bashir Khan.

One of the dead was identified as Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani TV station who was killed when police fired at protesters torching a cinema and hit his vehicle, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who also was in the car. The TV channel showed doctors at a hospital trying unsuccessfully to save Amir's life.

At least 45 people, including 28 protesters and 17 policemen were wounded in clashes in Islamabad, where police fought with more than 10,000 demonstrators in front of a five-star hotel near the diplomatic enclave where the U.S. Embassy and other foreign missions are located. A military helicopter buzzed overhead as the sound of tear gas being fired echoed across the city.

In northwestern Pakistan, demonstrators burned the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in the city of Mardan, but no one was injured, said senior police officer Salim Khan

The government temporarily blocked cellphone service in 15 major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during the protests, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Blocking cellphones also had the benefit of making it harder for people to organize protests.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf urged the international community to pass laws to prevent people from insulting the prophet, and the Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Islamabad, Richard Hoagland, over the film.

"If denying the Holocaust is a crime, then is it not fair and legitimate for a Muslim to demand that denigrating and demeaning Islam's holiest personality is no less than a crime?" Ashraf said in a speech to religious scholars and international diplomats in Islamabad.

Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, but not in the U.S.

U.S. officials have tried to explain to the Muslim world how they strongly disagree with the anti-Islam film but have no ability to block it because of free speech guarantees.

Khar, the foreign minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that declaring a national holiday for Friday would motivate the peaceful majority to demonstrate their love for the prophet and not allow extremists to turn it into a show of anti-American anger.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik defended the decision, saying the holiday made it easier for police to tackle protesters in Islamabad because the city was empty of people who normally commute there to go to work or school.

But Riffat Hussain, a professor at the Islamabad-based National Defense University, said the government mismanaged the situation by calling for people to demonstrate and not providing a venue to do so peacefully, such as a rally with religious and political leaders.

"The government thought that they were guiding the public sentiment," Hussain said. "In doing that they lost control."

Elsewhere on Friday, about 3,000 protesters in the southern Iraq city of Basra condemned the film and caricatures of the prophet that were published in a French satirical weekly. They burned Israeli and U.S. flags and raised a banner that read: "We condemn the offenses made against the prophet."

U.S. flags and effigies of Obama were burned by about 2,000 people in a protest following Friday prayers in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. They demanded that the United States ban the film.

In Bangladesh, more than 2,000 people marched in the capital, Dhaka, and burned a makeshift coffin draped in an American flag with an effigy of Obama. Small and mostly orderly protests were also held in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Tens of thousands of supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement held a raucous protest in the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek. Later, a few thousand supporters of a hard-line Sunni cleric held gathered in the capital, Beirut. Both demonstrations directed outrage at the U.S. and Israel over what they believed was a grave insult to Muhammad.

Police clamped a daylong curfew in parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir's main city of Srinagar and chased away protesters opposing the anti-Islam film. Authorities in the region also temporarily blocked cellphone and Internet services to prevent viewing the film clips.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the West over the film and the caricatures in the French weekly, Charlie Hebdo.

"In return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they — the West — raise the slogan of respect for freedom of speech," Ahmadinejad said at a speech in Tehran. He said this explanation was "clearly a deception."

In Germany, the Interior Ministry said it was postponing a poster campaign aimed at countering radical Islam among young people due to tensions caused by the online video.

Latest developments in protest of anti-Islam film:

Here's a look at protests and events across the world on Friday connected to an amateurish anti-Muslim film produced in the United States and vulgar caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in a French satirical weekly. More than 47 people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been killed in violence linked to the protests over the film, which has also renewed debate over freedom of expression in the U.S. and in Europe.

■ PAKISTAN: Eighteen people were killed and dozens were injured as tens of thousands protested against the film around the country after the government encouraged peaceful protests and declared a national holiday — "Love for the Prophet Day." Demonstrations turned violent in several Pakistani cities. Among those killed was a driver for a Pakistani television station, who died after police opened fire on rioters torching a cinema in the northwest city of Peshawar during a protest.

Clashes between police and thousands of stone-throwing protesters also occurred in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

■ AFGHANISTAN: About 900 people have gathered for a protest against the film in the capital, Kabul, chanting "death to America" and burning an effigy of President Barack Obama and an American flag. A few hundred demonstrators also protested inside a mosque in the eastern city of Ghazni. The protests were peaceful.

■ IRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the West over the film. Speaking during a military parade in Tehran, he said: "in return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they — the West — raise the slogan of respect for freedom of speech." He said this explanation was "clearly a deception."

■ INDONESIA: The United States closed its diplomatic missions across Indonesia due to continuing demonstrations over the anti-Islam film. Small and mostly orderly protests were held outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and in the cities of Surabaya and Medan, along with a couple other smaller towns. No violence was reported.

In addition to the embassy in Jakarta and consulate offices in Surabaya, Medan and Bali, the American mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also was shut.

■ IRAQ: About 3,000 people, mostly followers of Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim groups, protested against the film and caricatures in the southern city of Basra. Demonstrators carried Iraqi flags and posters of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, chanting "death to America" and "no to America."

They burnt Israeli and American flags. One of the organizers, Qassim al-Moussawi, told AP that people gathered "to express our anger and resentment on the offenses made against our prophet."

■ SRI LANKA: About 2,000 Muslims burned effigies of President Barack Obama and American flags at a protest after Friday prayers in the capital, Colombo, demanding that the United States ban the film.

■ BANGLADESH: Over 2,000 people marched through the streets of the capital, Dhaka, to protest the film. They burned a makeshift coffin draped in an American flag, and an effigy of Obama.

■ LEBANON: Thousands gathered in the Bekaa valley for the latest in a series of protest rallies organized by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Protesters carried the yellow Hezbollah flag.

■ KASHMIR: Police enforced a daylong curfew in parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir's main city, Srinagar, and chased away protesters opposing the anti-Islam film. Authorities in the region also temporarily blocked mobile phone and Internet services to prevent viewing the film clips.

■ GERMANY: Several hundred people gathered in the city of Freiburg in southwest of Germany to protest the film. Some carried banners saying: "The dignity of the Prophet Muhammad is our dignity." Police banned inflammatory slogans.

The Interior Ministry postponed a poster campaign aimed at countering radical Islam among young people due to tensions caused by the online video insulting Islam. Posters for the campaign — in German, Turkish and Arabic — were meant to go on display in German cities with large immigrant populations on Friday, but are being withheld because of the changed security situation. Germany is home to an estimated 4 million Muslims.

■ NORWAY: Crowds gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital Oslo to protest the prophet film shouting "Obama, Obama, we're all Osama."

Some 70 people took part in the hour-long demonstration on Friday afternoon that lasted about an hour. Police blocked off the street during the peaceful protest.

■ PHILIPPINES: A law professor defied a ban by Philippine university officials and has shown students the film's 14-minute trailer. Constitutional law professor Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines said the film was "trash and nothing but trash" and will not convince people Islam is evil.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features