15 die in Pakistan during film protests


AT LEAST 15 people died in Pakistan yesterday during protests against a US-made film denigrating Islam. Other protests – in a dozen countries across the Muslim world – were mostly peaceful.

The largest rallies took place in non-Arab Muslim states in Asia where religious fervour is particularly strong among the marginalised poor.

In Pakistan, despite a $70,000 video shown on television featuring US president Barack Obama disavowing the film, protesters gathered outside the diplomatic compound in Islamabad. Police fired tear gas and live rounds, resulting in the deaths and injury of dozens of people.

In the commercial hub of Karachi armed elements among a crowd estimated at 15,000 fired on police, killing an officer and wounding another. Two cinemas and a bank were burned down.

Clashes also took place in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar, and Pakistani Christians protested in Hyderabad.

Troops imposed a day-long curfew in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir. They chased protesters from the streets, and disrupted internet and mobile phone services. The US embassy in New Delhi closed for the day.

Elsewhere protests were mainly peaceful. In Colombo, 2,000 Sri Lankan Muslims burned effigies of Mr Obama and US flags and demanded the banning of the film. In Dhaka, 1,000 Bangladeshis rallied while thousands of Malaysians protested in Kuala Lumpur and several hundred Indonesians in Jakarta.

Bosnian Muslims took part in a protest walk organised by a local football club in the town of Novi Pazar in Serbia.

Protests were fewer and more muted in the Arab world. In Basra, 3,000 Iraqi Shias condemned the film and the publication this week by a French satirical magazine of cartoons offensive to Muslims and burned US and Israeli flags.

In Lebanon, the Shia Hizbullah movement staged well-organised protests in several areas far from western diplomatic missions while Sunni rallies took place in Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli where US flags were burned.

In Tunis, where the US embassy compound was breached last Friday, protests were banned by the government although the ruling Nahda party had called for demonstrations.

In Egypt, where protests outside the US embassy began 10 days ago, the most senior cleric, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, called on Muslims to follow the example of the Prophet by enduring “insults from the non-believers . . . without retaliation of any sort”.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the puritan Sunni Noor and Asala parties announced they would not take part in demonstrations. Egyptian prime minister Hisham Qandil said people attacking embassies or foreign properties would be prosecuted.

The German embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, closed although security was ramped up after it was targeted last week.

The trailer of the film, portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a fraudster, posted on YouTube, has precipitated protests in more than two dozen countries over the past 10 days and left at least 33 dead.