BEIRUT

Middle East

Protesters across Asian cities rail against U.S. over film

Pakistani lawyers in the city of Multan burn a U.S. flag as well as effigies of Obama and Florida pastor Terry Jones.

KARACHI/KABUL: Demonstrators enraged by a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad battled with police in several Asian cities Monday and vented their fury against the United States, blaming it for what they see as an attack on Islam.

Police fired in the air to break up a crowd marching on the U.S. consulate in the Pakistani city of Karachi, where at least one person was reportedly killed in the violence, while in Afghanistan and Indonesia people burned U.S. flags and chanted “Death to America.”

Indonesian police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who massed outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

In Kabul, protesters set fire to cars and shops and threw stones at police.

“We will defend our Prophet until we have blood across our bodies. We will not let anyone insult him,” said one protester in the Afghan capital. “Americans will pay for their dishonor.”

The demonstrations were the latest across the world ignited by a short film made with private funds in the United States and posted on the Internet.

The situation saddles U.S. President Barack Obama with an unexpected foreign policy headache as he campaigns for re-election in November, although his administration has condemned the film as reprehensible and disgusting.

In a torrent of violence last week, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi and U.S. and other foreign embassies were stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims. At least nine other people have been killed.

Washington has sent ships, extra troops and special forces to protect U.S. interests and citizens in the Middle East, while a number of its embassies have evacuated staff and are on high alert for trouble.

Several sources told AFP that around 100 U.S. citizens have been evacuated from Tunisia since an attack on the embassy in Tunis by angry protesters that left four people dead.

“The American nationals were evacuated Sunday,” a diplomatic source told AFP without saying how many had left the country.

A security source said that 100 Americans, including embassy officials and residents, left the capital on a Tunisair flight.

A White House spokesman said Obama spoke by telephone to senior diplomats at the weekend to reassure them of his support.

“He called the chiefs of mission in Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen to let those diplomats know that he was thinking about them, that their safety remains a top priority of his, and it is something he will remain focused on,” spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The renewed protests dashed any hopes that the furor over the film might fade despite an appeal over the weekend from the senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, for calm.

In the Kabul demonstration, protesters shouted “Death to America” and burned the flags of the United States and Israel, a country reviled by many Muslims and Arabs because of the Palestinian issue.

The U.S., British and other missions were placed on lockdown and violence flared near housing compounds for foreign workers.

In Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, protesters on motorcycles and in cars headed toward the U.S. consulate, prompting police to shoot in the air and fire teargas. Police said 30 students were arrested. In Lahore, Pakistani protesters threw rocks at police and burned an American flag near the U.S. consulate. Police said six policemen and some protesters were hurt.

In the Palestinian territories, hundreds of people staged a peaceful protest in Ramallah, organized by the Palestinian Authority’s Waqf (religious endowment) and held outside its offices, held signs saying “We are against those who oppose you Mohammad” and “Do not touch our Prophet.”

Speaking at the event, Waqf Minister Mahmoud Habbash called on the U.S. to remove the film and apologize for it.

For its part, Iran condemned the film as offensive and vowed to pursue those responsible for making it.

“Certainly it will search for, track and pursue this guilty person who has insulted 1.5 billion Muslims in the world,” First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told a Cabinet meeting.

Iranian officials have demanded that Washington apologize to Muslims for the film.

The identity of those directly responsible for it remains unclear. Clips posted online since July have been attributed to a man named Sam Bacile, which two people connected with the film have said was probably an alias.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian widely linked to the film in media reports, has gone into hiding after being questioned in California Saturday by U.S. authorities investigating possible violations of his probation for a bank fraud conviction.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 18, 2012, on page 9.

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