Pakistan Protests Over Islam Film Target U.S. Missions

Pakistan US Prophet Film
Supporters of Pakistani religious party Minhajul Quran holding placards with Muhammad's name on them at a rally, as they protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad, on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 in Lahore, Pakistan. Photograph: AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary

Pakistanis protesting an anti-Islam film made in the U.S. poured onto the streets yesterday in major cities, battling police in attempts to reach American diplomatic missions and ignoring appeals for calm from the prime minister.

Fifteen people were killed in Karachi, Saleem Khan, the spokesman for the health minister of Pakistan’s Sindh province, said in a text message sent via mobile phone. Mobs set fire to five movie theaters, banks and fast-food outlets and more than 100 were injured. Protesters ransacked the chamber of commerce, shops and cinema houses in Peshawar, where six people were killed and 40 wounded. Police kept thousands of protesters away from U.S. missions in clashes that started after Friday prayers.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had urged peaceful protests against the amateur movie that has sparked demonstrations across the Muslim world in the last 11 days. The government shut mobile-phone services in major cities and deployed police and paramilitary troops to quell the violence.

“Extremist elements have taken hostage our concept of a national holiday to register our peaceful protest,” Ashraf said at a conference in Islamabad yesterday. “Attacking foreign missions is against Islam. I appeal to everyone to register your protest without damage to life and property.”

Pakistan’s biggest demonstrations yet against the film, called the “Innocence of Muslims,” were fueled by calls from Islamist groups and a decision by Pakistan’s government to announce a national holiday yesterday to celebrate the life of Prophet Muhammad. The video has been responsible for deadly attacks on U.S. and European targets from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.

‘Appeasement’ Criticized

Declaring the public holiday amounted to an “appeasement of religious parties -- those lobbies which are stoking anti-American sentiment in the name of Islam,” Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said. The government has “given in to religious parties rather than facing them politically and administratively,” he said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met yesterday with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, thanking her government for efforts to protect the U.S. embassy in Islamabad and consulates in other cities.

‘Disgusting, Reprehensible’

“We found the video that’s at the core of this series of events offensive, disgusting, reprehensible,” Clinton said in remarks when Khar arrived at the State Department. Clinton said “that does not provide justification for violence” and leaders must stand up “against those who would exploit this difficult moment to advance their own extremist ideologies.”

Khar replied that condemnation of the video by Clinton and President Barack Obama “should go a long way in ending the violence on many streets in the world.”

Cellular services in Pakistan that were shut in the early morning started to come on around 6 p.m. local time. The nation, home to the world’s biggest Muslim population after Indonesia and India, has 120 million mobile subscribers, according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority in Islamabad.

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., owner of the Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins restaurant chains, closed all of its 21 locations in Pakistan for the day yesterday “given the holiday and as a precautionary measure,” Michelle King, a spokeswoman for the Canton, Massachusetts-based company, said in an e-mail.

Military on Standby

The military was on standby in the capital yesterday after protesters tried to force their way into the highly protected zone in central Islamabad that also houses the home of the prime minister, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters. The army was called out Sept. 20 to protect foreign diplomatic missions following a day of violence mostly by students. Pakistan summoned a top U.S. embassy official in Islamabad and demanded the removal of film from the Internet.

“We support the decision of the government to announce a national holiday, but the protests must be peaceful,” Naseem Dawar, chairman of the Tribal Students Movement, said by phone from Peshawar. “We need to keep in mind that we are destroying our own property.”

The film continued to spark rallies elsewhere.

Malaysian protesters burned American and Israeli flags outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur yesterday in protests against the film and offensive cartoons.

As many as 3,000 people gathered outside the embassy yesterday afternoon, while an additional 1,500 members of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organization met separately outside a mosque, Assistant Commissioner of Police Mohan Singh told reporters yesterday. No arrests were made.

Embassy Closes

U.S. embassy staff received a memo from protest members including Nasaruddin Hassan, the youth-wing chief of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, a member of the opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim. He called on the U.S. to make a public apology to all Muslims and bring charges against the film’s producer.

“We condemn the insulting of Islam and the Prophet,” Nasaruddin told reporters. “This is not called freedom of speech or expression. It is a total insult to Muslims around the world. We want the U.S. government to express its attitude and stand with regards to this film. We also want them to take action.”

‘Remain Peaceful’

The embassy in Kuala Lumpur closed at noon yesterday because of the protest. Najib urged Muslims in a statement on Sept. 20 to avoid violence.

“I urge Muslims to remain peaceful and not resort to violence as a means of showing dissatisfaction,” Najib said. “Now, more than ever, each of us has a responsibility to work together for greater respect, tolerance and understanding so we may live in harmony.”

Pakistani television channels aired an advertisement yesterday by the State Department with Obama and Clinton disavowing the film.

The 30-second U.S. announcement, subtitled in Urdu, shows Obama saying the U.S. rejects “all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” Clinton is shown saying, “the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message.”

The U.S. embassy in Islamabad produced the ad from public comments by Obama and Clinton, and the State Department spent about $70,000 to buy commercial time to show it, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Sept. 20.

YouTube Posting

A second message featuring clips, drawn from Google Inc.’s YouTube, of ordinary Americans condemning the film is also being shown in countries around the world, according to Nuland. The anti-Islam video drew international condemnation when it was posted on YouTube, a video-sharing service.

Anti-American sentiment has been running high in Pakistan after years of U.S. drone missile attacks, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town last year and other confrontations. A U.S. diplomatic vehicle was attacked this month in the volatile northwestern city of Peshawar, killing two people and injuring two consulate officials.

Rallies were held Sept. 20 in a number of cities as Pakistanis expressed their anger over the movie that portrays the Prophet as a womanizer. The 14-minute trailer on YouTube shows a fictional attack by Muslims on a Christian family, followed by a derisive account of the origins of Islam.

Pakistan and Bangladesh this week blocked YouTube to prevent people watching what was billed as an excerpt from a coming full-length movie.

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