Protesters attempted to storm the U.S. Embassy in Yemen’s capital Sana’a yesterday and at least four were killed, while demonstrators rallied in Egypt and Iran against a film seen as insulting to Islam.
The spread of violence follows the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three colleagues during an attack on consular buildings in Benghazi on Sept. 11. Several people were arrested in Libya for that attack, Al Arabiya TV reported yesterday, citing the Libyan Interior Ministry.
Demonstrators in Sana’a breached the embassy compound’s security perimeter and set two cars ablaze, as security personnel fired into the air to disperse the crowd, said Yousef Al-Ahjan, who joined the rally. Four protesters were killed and at least 41 were injured, Al Jazeera television said today.
U.S. President Barack Obama thanked Yemeni President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi by phone yesterday for his swift condemnation of the violence and his promise to investigate the incident, according to a statement issued by the White House. Obama underscored the importance of security for U.S. personnel and Hadi said additional security forces had been deployed around the embassy, according to the statement.
In Egypt, more than 200 people were injured yesterday, according to health officials, as clashes entered a fourth day. Demonstrations also took place outside the Swiss mission in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.
The eruptions across the Middle East, recalling the reaction to the publication of cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish magazine in 2005, were prompted by excerpts of the disputed film that were posted on YouTube. It portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer. For Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is sacrilegious.
The anti-American violence threatens U.S. efforts to establish ties with the new governments that are emerging in the Middle East after last year’s wave of revolts.
In Washington, the Obama administration downplayed any rift with the Egyptian government a day after Obama said he doesn’t consider Egypt an “ally,” following the assault on the embassy in Cairo. The president “in diplomatic and legal terms was speaking correctly” when he described Egypt’s status in an interview with Telemundo, White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday in Colorado, where Obama was campaigning.
Carney said the U.S. has no mutual defense agreement with Egypt as it does, for example, with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. For more than 20 years, Egypt has held a preferential status known as a “major non-NATO ally.”
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor called Egypt a “long-standing and close partner of the United States” and said Obama is committed to “supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”
The administration isn’t considering withholding aid to Egypt, Carney said. “We have an important strategic partnership with Egypt and that partnership continues,” he said.
Egypt’s local-currency borrowing costs fell even as protesters clashed outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The average yield on one-year treasury bills dropped to a 10-month low after Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted the debt will catch up with a rally in other Egyptian assets once the nation secures International Monetary Fund aid.
Yemen’s embassy in Washington said the government will step up security around all foreign missions. Protesters who made a second attempt to storm the embassy yesterday were prevented from getting close by increased security measures and roadblocks. Security forces fired tear gas and live bullets in the air to disperse the crowds.
Saudi Arabia condemned the “violent” attacks against American interests and offered condolences to the U.S. government, the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing an unidentified official. It also denounced the production of the film by an “irresponsible” group, the agency said.