Middle East

‘Day of Love’ violence kills 15 in Pakistan

Protesters torch a cinema in Peshawar, Pakistan in protest against an anti-Islam film.

ISLAMABAD: Muslim protests against insults to the Prophet Mohammad turned violent in Pakistan, where at least 15 people were killed Friday, but remained mostly peaceful in other Islamic countries.

The Obama administration sought to shore up already tense U.S. ties with Pakistan as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Friday on “responsible leaders” everywhere to explicitly condemn violence sparked by an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S.

But Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, standing beside Clinton at the State Department, ignored the invitation.

Instead, Khar focused her remarks entirely on the film, which Muslims believe to be blasphemous.

She thanked President Barack Obama and Clinton for speaking out against the video and for making it clear that it did not have the support of the U.S. government. But she avoided direct criticism of the violence.

“The condemnation of this blasphemous video, which has certainly stoked the sensitivities of the Muslims, goes a long way,” Khar said. “Your condemnation has given a strong message that the U.S. government not only condemns it, but has absolutely no support for such blasphemous videos or content anywhere.”

Clinton, who spoke before Khar, repeated her denunciation of the film but made it clear she was looking for condemnation of the violence.

“We found the video ... offensive, disgusting and reprehensible, but that does not provide justification for violence, and therefore it is important for responsible leaders, indeed responsible people everywhere, to stand and speak out against violence and particularly against those who would exploit this difficult moment to advance their own extremist ideologies,” Clinton said.

In France, where the publication of cartoons denigrating the Prophet stoked anger over the earlier video released by the U.S., authorities banned all protests over the issue.

“There will be no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government also banned protests against the images published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Four people were killed and almost 30 wounded last week when the U.S. Embassy was stormed in a protest over the film.

Many Western and Muslim politicians and clerics have appealed for calm, denouncing those behind the mockery of the Prophet, but also condemning violent reactions to it.

The imam of Mecca urged Friday that laws be passed to prevent incitement of religious hatred as he reacted to the anti-Islam film and publication of cartoons of a naked Prophet Mohammad.

“We call on the world ... to enact a code of honor and a binding law to prohibit and criminalize any violation of monotheistic religions and prophets,” Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammad al-Taleb said in his weekly sermon at the Grand Mosque.

“Let the politicians and policy makers know that the people express uncontrolled reactions when sacred symbols are humiliated,” he said.

Sheikh Saleh also criticized the violent protests against the low-budget film “Innocence of Muslims.”

“Muslims must show their kindness in their reactions – it is not kindness to kill innocent people and destroy property,” he said, advising them to “raise awareness of the Prophet using social networks.”

Western diplomatic missions in Muslim nations tightened security ahead of Friday prayers. France ordered embassies, schools and cultural centers to close in a score of countries, and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said some would stay shut over the weekend.

Outside the French Embassy in London, around a hundred Muslim protesters shouted slogans against the French magazine. Protesters outside the embassy in London’s plush Knightsbridge district shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and waved placards reading “Shariah for France” and “Muslims will conquer France,” an AFP reporter at the scene said.

A police cordon held the demonstrators back from the embassy while around 25 women wearing niqabs, or full face-veils, protested in a separate group nearby.

In Pakistan, tens of thousands of people joined protests encouraged by the government in several cities including Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Multan and Muzaffarabad.

The bloodiest unrest erupted in the southern city of Karachi, where 10 people were killed, including three policemen, and more than 100 wounded, according to Allah Bachayo Memon, spokesman of the chief minister of Sindh province. He said about 20 vehicles, three banks and five cinemas were set on fire.

Crowds set two cinemas ablaze and ransacked shops in the northwestern city of Peshawar, clashing with riot police who fired tear gas. At least five people were killed. In Mardan in the northwest, police said a Christian church was set on fire and several people hurt.

Security forces fired in the air in Peshawar and the eastern city of Lahore to keep protesters away from U.S. consulates, while police used tear gas on around 1,000 protesters in Islamabad.

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan has run television spots, one featuring Hillary Clinton, saying the government had nothing to do with the film about the Prophet.

Pakistan had declared Friday a “Day of Love” for the Prophet and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said an attack on Islam’s founder was “an attack on the whole 1.5 billion Muslims.” The Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires to lodge a protest over the video.

In neighboring Afghanistan, police contacted religious and community leaders to try to prevent bloodshed. Protests in Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif only attracted a few hundred people and no violence was reported.

Around 10,000 Islamists gathered in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka after Friday prayers, chanting slogans and burning U.S. and French flags and an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama.

In Benghazi, however, thousands of Libyans marched in support of democracy and against the Islamist militias that Washington blames for the attack on the U.S. consulate last week that killed four Americans, including the ambassador. Authorities said eight people in total had been arrested over the attack.

A few dozen Egyptians protested near the French Embassy in Cairo, but were kept away from the premises by police.

In Yemen, where the U.S. Embassy was stormed last week, several hundred Shiite protesters chanted anti-American slogans, but riot police blocked the route to the embassy.

Anger over the film brought several thousand Shiites and Sunnis together in a rare show of sectarian unity in Iraq’s southern city of Basra, where they burned U.S. and Israeli flags.

Some 200 Moroccans protested outside a mosque in Rabat’s twin city of Sale after weekly prayers, chanting anti-U.S. slogans and denouncing Obama, an AFP photographer reported.

“Death to Obama,” “Down with the West,” and “American Satan,” were among slogans shouted by the protesters, most of them Islamists.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 22, 2012, on page 1.




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