Muslim rage over US film unabated
KABUL – Protesters enraged by a film mocking the prophet Muhammad battled with police in several Asian cities yesterday and vented their fury against the United States, blaming it for what they see as an attack on the Muslim religion.
Police fired in the air to break up a crowd marching on the US consulate in the Pakistani city of Karachi, while in Afghanistan and Indonesia people burnt US flags and chanted “Death to America”.
Indonesian police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who massed outside the US embassy in Jakarta, capital of the most populous Muslim nation.
In Kabul, protesters set fire to cars and shops and threw stones at police. “We will defend our prophet until we have blood across our bodies. We will not let anyone insult him,” said one protester in the Afghan capital. “Americans will pay for their dishonour.”
Thousands also marched in Beirut, where a Hizbullah leader accused US spy agencies of being behind events that have unleashed a wave of anti-western sentiment in the Muslim and Arab world.
The demonstrations were the latest across the world ignited by a short film made with private funds in the US and posted on the internet that depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a fool, a womaniser and a homosexual.
The situation saddles US president Barack Obama with an unexpected foreign policy headache as he campaigns for re-election in November, even though his administration has condemned the film as reprehensible and disgusting.
Washington has sent ships, extra troops and special forces to protect US interests and citizens in the Middle East, while a number of its embassies have evacuated staff and are on high alert for trouble.
A White House spokesman said Mr Obama spoke by telephone to senior diplomats at the weekend to reassure them of his support.
“He called the chiefs of mission in Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen to let those diplomats know that he was thinking about them, that their safety remains a top priority of his, and it is something he will remain focused on,” spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Despite Mr Obama’s efforts early in his tenure to improve relations with the Arab and Muslim world, the new violence adds to a host of problems including the continued US military involvement in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear programme, the Syrian civil war and the fall-out from the Arab Spring revolts.
The renewed protests yesterday dashed any hopes that the furore over the film might fade, despite an appeal over the weekend from the senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, for calm. In Kabul the US, British and other missions were placed on lockdown as violence flared near housing compounds for foreign workers.
In Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, protesters on motorcycles and in cars headed towards the US consulate, prompting police to shoot in the air and fire tear gas. Police said 30 students were arrested.
In Lahore, Pakistani protesters threw rocks at police and burned an American flag near the US consulate. Police said six policemen and some protesters were hurt.
Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered the blocking of YouTube in the country so the “blasphemous” film could not be viewed, the information ministry said. His US-backed government faces a Taliban insurgency supported by al-Qaeda and other militant groups, and anti-US feeling is never far from the surface.
In Beirut, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance to address tens of thousands of Lebanese protesting against the film. “Prophet of God, we offer ourselves, our blood and our kin for the sake of your dignity and honour,” he said.