Anti-Islam film causes deadly riots in Pakistan

By Sebastian Abbot

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 2:11 p.m. MDT

One of the dead was identified as Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani TV station who was killed when police fired at protesters torching a cinema and hit his vehicle, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who also was in the car. The TV channel showed doctors at a hospital trying unsuccessfully to save Amir's life.

At least 45 people, including 28 protesters and 17 policemen were wounded in clashes in Islamabad, where police fought with more than 10,000 demonstrators in front of a five-star hotel near the diplomatic enclave where the U.S. Embassy and other foreign missions are located. A military helicopter buzzed overhead as the sound of tear gas being fired echoed across the city.

In northwestern Pakistan, demonstrators burned the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in the city of Mardan, but no one was injured, said senior police officer Salim Khan

The government temporarily blocked cellphone service in 15 major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during the protests, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Blocking cellphones also had the benefit of making it harder for people to organize protests.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf urged the international community to pass laws to prevent people from insulting the prophet, and the Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Islamabad, Richard Hoagland, over the film.

"If denying the Holocaust is a crime, then is it not fair and legitimate for a Muslim to demand that denigrating and demeaning Islam's holiest personality is no less than a crime?" Ashraf said in a speech to religious scholars and international diplomats in Islamabad.

Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, but not in the U.S.

U.S. officials have tried to explain to the Muslim world how they strongly disagree with the anti-Islam film but have no ability to block it because of free speech guarantees.

Khar, the foreign minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that declaring a national holiday for Friday would motivate the peaceful majority to demonstrate their love for the prophet and not allow extremists to turn it into a show of anti-American anger.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik defended the decision, saying the holiday made it easier for police to tackle protesters in Islamabad because the city was empty of people who normally commute there to go to work or school.

But Riffat Hussain, a professor at the Islamabad-based National Defense University, said the government mismanaged the situation by calling for people to demonstrate and not providing a venue to do so peacefully, such as a rally with religious and political leaders.

"The government thought that they were guiding the public sentiment," Hussain said. "In doing that they lost control."

Elsewhere on Friday, about 3,000 protesters in the southern Iraq city of Basra condemned the film and caricatures of the prophet that were published in a French satirical weekly. They burned Israeli and U.S. flags and raised a banner that read: "We condemn the offenses made against the prophet."

U.S. flags and effigies of Obama were burned by about 2,000 people in a protest following Friday prayers in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. They demanded that the United States ban the film.

In Bangladesh, more than 2,000 people marched in the capital, Dhaka, and burned a makeshift coffin draped in an American flag with an effigy of Obama. Small and mostly orderly protests were also held in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Tens of thousands of supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement held a raucous protest in the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek. Later, a few thousand supporters of a hard-line Sunni cleric held gathered in the capital, Beirut. Both demonstrations directed outrage at the U.S. and Israel over what they believed was a grave insult to Muhammad.

Police clamped a daylong curfew in parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir's main city of Srinagar and chased away protesters opposing the anti-Islam film. Authorities in the region also temporarily blocked cellphone and Internet services to prevent viewing the film clips.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the West over the film and the caricatures in the French weekly, Charlie Hebdo.

"In return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they — the West — raise the slogan of respect for freedom of speech," Ahmadinejad said at a speech in Tehran. He said this explanation was "clearly a deception."

In Germany, the Interior Ministry said it was postponing a poster campaign aimed at countering radical Islam among young people due to tensions caused by the online video.

Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad; Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan; Zaheer Babar in Lahore, Pakistan; Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan; Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India; Zeina Karam in Baalbek, Lebanon; and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

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