TRIPOLI, Lebanon: One protester was killed and more than 27 others were injured when stone-throwing demonstrators protesting an anti-Islam film clashed with Lebanese security forces in the northern city of Tripoli Friday, hospital sources said.
About 1,000 mainly Islamist youths had marched from Tripoli’s Al-Mansouri Mosque to the nearby Nour Square following Friday prayers, shouting slogans against the U.S. and the pope’s visit and denouncing the U.S.-made film.
They tore down posters and banners welcoming the pope that had been put in place by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.
Amid repeated chants of “Allahu Akbar [God is great] and America is the greatest Satan,” the demonstrators ignored warning shots fired by police, and tried unsuccessfully to make their way into the Tripoli Serail, hurling stones at police blocking their path.
Some demonstrators also beat police with wooden sticks and metal rods, witnesses said.
Unable to storm the Serail, the protesters headed some 500 meters down the road to attack the American fast food restaurants KFC and Hardee’s, setting them on fire.
They also set four delivery mopeds ablaze as KFC and Hardee’s staff evacuated the premises.
At one point the demonstrators destroyed a police jeep near the fast food establishment and broke a camera lens belonging to a The Daily Star photographer, and seizing a camera belonging to another.
When riot police tried to push back the demonstrators by firing shots in the air, a stray bullet hit a protester in the heart, killing him instantly.
The victim was identified as Mohammad Adnan Ayyousha, 30.
When news of his death spread, demonstrators attempted to storm the Serail, but were pushed back by security forces and an armored Army patrol that arrived to restore order.
After setting KFC and Hardee’s alight, the protesters tried to do the same to a Burger King restaurant before the Lebanese Army intervened to thwart their attempt.
Later, troops backed by half a dozen armored personnel carriers were quickly deployed in Tripoli to restore calm, while the protesters dispersed after hurling stones at the Serail.
The clash took place as a U.S.-made film – “Innocence of Muslims” – has triggered violent protests worldwide.
Outrage has met the film, which is seen as insulting the Prophet Mohammad and as portraying Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent.
Hezbollah called for a rally in the Beirut southern suburbs Monday in defense of the Prophet Mohammad.
The clash also coincided with Pope Benedict XVI’s historic three-day visit to Lebanon which began Friday.
Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui denounced the violent reactions to the U.S. film.
“We strongly believe that these violent reactions do not reflect the true image of Muslims nor of Lebanon,” Sehnaoui said via Twitter.
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly called on governments in Arab and Muslim countries to protect American diplomatic missions, saying that the United States “had nothing to do with the disgusting movie that offends people of all faiths.”
“America has a history of religious tolerance and respect for religious beliefs that goes back to the founding of our nation,” Connelly told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail.
She added that the U.S. was home to millions of Muslims and that the country rejected the denigration of religion.
“We also believe, however, that there is no justification for responding to this movie with violence. Islam respects the fundamental dignity of human beings and it violates that dignity to attack innocents,” she said.
Connelly decried attacks against embassies, adding that “governments everywhere have a responsibility to protect diplomatic missions.”
“We must not allow a tiny minority to provoke conflict among religions, countries, and cultures,” she said.
“All leaders must take a firm stand against violence, as Prime Minister Mikati and Foreign Minister Mansour have done today, and as President Sleiman did yesterday.”
For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt accused Israel of being behind the U.S.-made film, saying it could be part of the Jewish state’s campaign against the re-election of President Barak Obama.
“Despite the fact that I am not one to believe in conspiracy theories – under the banner of which the most heinous of crimes in Arab countries have been committed for decades – we cannot disregard Israel’s participation in planning the launch of the film and its consequences,” he said in a statement.
The film could be “linked to [Israel’s premier] Benjamin Netanyahu’s hatred for ... Obama and his fierce campaign against his re-election,” he said.
“We call on the United Nations and the international community to quickly pass a Security Council resolution that is similar to laws criminalizing anti-Semitism,” Jumblatt added.
Lebanon’s top Christian and Muslim religious leaders have also condemned the U.S.film.