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Egypt's Morsi calls for calm as crowd pelts US embassy

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, right, greets Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi prior to a meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

CAIRO: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Thursday slammed a film deemed to mock the Muslim prophet but warned against the use of violence as angry protesters clashed with security outside the US embassy in Cairo.

Police fired teargas to disperse the latest protest by stone- and bottle-throwing demonstrators, which came after a night of sporadic clashes, in violence that has left over 200 people injured according to the health ministry.

"We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our prophet. I condemn and oppose all who... insult our prophet," Morsi said in remarks broadcast by state television in reference to the controversial film.

"(But) it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad," said the president, who is on a visit to Brussels.

"I call on everyone to take that into consideration, not to violate Egyptian law... not to assault embassies," he added, referring to a Tuesday assault on the US mission in Cairo in which protesters tore down the Stars and Stripes and replaced it with a black Islamic flag.

Morsi condemned an attack the same evening on the US consulate in Benghazi in neighbouring Libya, which claimed the lives of four American officials, including the ambassador.

"We condemn what happened in Benghazi," Morsi said.

"We all know that killing innocent people goes against Islam. The freedom to express opinions and demonstrate... are guaranteed but without attacks on private or public property, diplomatic missions or embassies."

Morsi said that he had spoken with US President Barack Obama and told him that it was necessary to put in place "legal measures which will discourage those seeking to damage relations... between the Egyptian and American peoples."

Armoured vehicles were deployed around the US embassy in Cairo on Thursday, an AFP correspondent reported.

Clashes calmed down by the evening, with clusters of protesters -- most in their teens or even younger -- gathered in the streets leading up to the US embassy in central Cairo, AFP reporters said.

"We are not leaving until the US president apologises to all Muslims," Ahmed Khalil told AFP, as security forces continued to fire tear gas.

One can insult "anything, anyone but the Prophet. Even my mother and father but not the prophet," said one other protester.

"In the United States there is a law against speaking against the Holocaust. We also want a law that prosecutes anyone who insults the Prophet," said another protester, Magdi Bassiouni.

Thursday's clashes have left 224 people injured, eight of whom needed to be transfered to hospital, said health ministry official Ahmed al-Ansari.

Protests against the film "Innocence of Muslims" were also held on Wednesday outside US missions in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia.

Mystery over film

In Tunis, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred, while Yemeni police shot dead a protester when they opened fire on a

crowd attempting to storm the US embassy in Sanaa.

The low-budget movie, in which actors have strong American accents, portrays Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent.

It pokes fun at the Prophet Mohammed and touches on themes of paedophilia and homosexuality, while showing him sleeping with women, talking about killing children and referring to a donkey as "the first Muslim animal."

Mystery has deepened over the film, with conflicting accounts from backers and promoters but no one owning up to having actually directed it.

US media initially cited someone claiming to be an American-Israeli calling himself Sam Bacile as saying he made the film on a $5 million budget with the help of 100 Jews, but no record of such a person has been found.

Coptic Christians have been accused of promoting an Arabic-adapted version of the English-language film in Egypt, where clips were shown on an Egyptian television channel at the weekend, apparently setting off the protests.

And a late Wednesday report cited by US media identified Nakoula Basseley Nakoula as saying he managed the company that produced the film, and that he was a Coptic Christian.

Obama called Libyan as well as Egyptian leaders to review security cooperation following the violence, the White House said.

Obama urged Egypt to uphold its commitments to protect US diplomats and called on Libya to work with US authorities to bring those behind the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi to justice.

"President Obama underscored the importance of Egypt following through on its commitment to cooperate with the United States in securing US diplomatic facilities and personnel," it said.

Both attacks were initially believed to have been motivated by outrage over the US-made amateur Internet film, but US officials later said the Benghazi attack might have been a planned, pre-meditated assault by jihadist militants among the crowd.

 

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