Pakistanis protesting an anti-Islam film made in the U.S. poured onto the streets in major cities, clashing with police in attempts to reach American diplomatic missions and ignoring appeals for calm from the prime minister.
Men carrying banners burned tires and moved shipping containers near the U.S. consulate in Karachi as police fired gunshots in the air and used tear gas to disperse them. In the northwestern city of Peshawar, protesters with sticks ransacked closed shops and the chamber of commerce building and set fire to two movie theaters, GEO television reported. A van driver from ARY Television was killed when police opened fire on rioters, GEO said.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had urged peaceful protests against the amateur movie that has sparked demonstrations across the Muslim world in the last 10 days. The government shut mobile-phone services in major cities and deployed police and paramilitary troops to quell the violence.
“Extremist elements have taken hostage our concept of a national holiday to register our peaceful protest,” Ashraf said at a conference in Islamabad today. “Attacking foreign missions is against Islam. I appeal to everyone to register your protest without damage to life and property.”
Pakistan’s biggest demonstrations yet against the film, called the “Innocence of Muslims,” were fueled by calls from Islamist groups and a decision by Pakistan’s government to announce a national holiday today to celebrate the life of Prophet Muhammad. The video has been responsible for deadly attacks on U.S. and European targets from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.
Declaring the public holiday amounted to an “appeasement of religious parties -- those lobbies which are stoking anti- American sentiment in the name of Islam,” Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said. The government has “given in to religious parties rather than facing them politically and administratively,” he said.
Cellular services will remain suspended until 6 p.m., according to Omar Manzur, a spokesman for Pakistan Mobile Communications Ltd., or Mobilink, the biggest mobile phone service provider. The nation, home to the world’s biggest Muslim population after Indonesia and India, has 120 million mobile subscribers, according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority in Islamabad.
The military was on standby in the capital today after protesters tried to force their way into the highly protected zone in central Islamabad that also houses the home of the prime minister, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters. The army was called out yesterday to protect foreign diplomatic missions following a day of violence mostly by students. Pakistan summoned a top U.S. embassy official in Islamabad and demanded the removal of film from the Internet.
“We support the decision of the government to announce a national holiday but the protests must be peaceful,” Naseem Dawar, chairman of the Tribal Students Movement, said by phone from Peshawar. “We need to keep in mind that we are destroying our own property.”
The film continued to spark rallies elsewhere.
Malaysian protesters burned American and Israeli flags outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur today in protests against the film and offensive cartoons.
As many as 3,000 people gathered outside the embassy this afternoon, while another 1,500 members of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organization met separately outside a mosque, Assistant Commissioner of Police Mohan Singh told reporters today. No arrests were made.
U.S. embassy staff received a memo from protest members including Nasaruddin Hassan, the youth wing chief of the Pan- Malaysian Islamic Party, a member of the opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim. He called on the U.S. to make a public apology to all Muslims and bring charges against the film’s producer.
“We condemn the insulting of Islam and the Prophet,” Nasaruddin told reporters. “This is not called freedom of speech or expression. It is a total insult to Muslims around the world. We want the U.S. government to express its attitude and stand with regards to this film. We also want them to take action.”
The embassy in Kuala Lumpur closed at noon today because of the protest. Najib yesterday urged Muslims to avoid violence.
“I urge Muslims to remain peaceful and not resort to violence as a means of showing dissatisfaction,” Najib said in a statement late yesterday. “Now, more than ever, each of us has a responsibility to work together for greater respect, tolerance and understanding so we may live in harmony.”
Pakistani television channels aired an advertisement today by the State Department with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disavowing the film.
The 30-second U.S. announcement, subtitled in Urdu, shows Obama saying the U.S. rejects “all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” Clinton is shown saying, “the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message.”
A second message featuring clips, drawn from Google Inc.’s YouTube, of ordinary Americans condemning the film is also being shown in countries around the world, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. The anti-Islam video drew international condemnation when it was posted on YouTube, a video-sharing service.
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad produced the ad from public comments by Obama and Clinton, and the State Department spent about $70,000 to buy commercial time to show it, Nuland told reporters yesterday.
Anti-American sentiment has been running high in Pakistan after years of U.S. drone missile attacks, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town last year and other confrontations. A U.S. diplomatic vehicle was attacked this month in the volatile northwestern city of Peshawar, killing two people and injuring two consulate officials.
Rallies were held yesterday in a number of cities as Pakistanis expressed their anger over the movie that portrays the Prophet as a womanizer. The 14-minute trailer on YouTube shows a fictional attack by Muslims on a Christian family, followed by a derisive account of the origins of Islam.
Pakistan and Bangladesh this week blocked YouTube to prevent people watching what was billed as an excerpt from a coming full-length movie.
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