FRESH PROTESTS ERUPTED across the Muslim world on Friday against a US-made film and French cartoons mocking Islam, with violent demonstrations in Pakistan leaving at least 15 people dead.
France, where a magazine this week published a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed, has shut embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools in 20 Muslim countries, fearing the fury will spread from US targets.
Pakistan bore the brunt of the anger today, with huge crowds of demonstrators throwing stones and setting buildings ablaze to denounce the film.
There were clashes in the country’s five largest cities leaving 15 dead and 219 others wounded, as protesters defied government calls for peaceful demonstrations on what was declared a national holiday in honour of Mohammed.
Police fought back with gunshots and tear gas as arsonists and looters attacked cinemas, banks, shops and restaurants in Karachi, where outbreaks of political and ethnically-linked violence have killed hundreds this year.
Two cinemas were also torched and ransacked in the northwestern city of Peshawar, on the edge of tribal belt strongholds of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
In Karachi, a policeman who died after being shot when officers used tear gas to disperse a crowd near the US consulate was among 10 people killed in the country’s largest city.
Five people were killed in Peshawar, including the driver for a TV channel which blamed police for his death.
In Islamabad gunshots were also fired outside the five-star Serena Hotel and police baton-charged some 8,000 protesters trying to penetrate the heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave.
Day of love for the prophet
The government had declared Friday a “day of love for the prophet”, but for hours shut down mobile telephone networks in an apparent bid to prevent extremists from exploiting the protests to carry out bomb attacks.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez said:
It is our collective responsibility to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to life or property.
Washington has warned citizens not to travel to Pakistan and spent $70,000 to air TV adverts in the country disassociating the American government from the film.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded governments of their “solemn duty” to protect diplomatic missions, saying that “they must be safe and protected places”.
In the Arab world, Sunnis and Shiites took to the streets of Lebanon, while there were also demonstrations in Basra in south Iraq and in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.
Tunisia had banned all demonstrations amid fears of violence and Libya’s second city Benghazi braced for rival demonstrations by a jihadist militia and its opponents.
There were also demonstrations across Asia in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Bangladesh, where about 10,000 took to the streets of Dhaka to condemn the film and the French cartoons.