Monday, September 17, 2012
ABDULLAH KHAN, Associated Press
TIMERGARAH, Pakistan (AP) — Hundreds of protesters demonstrating against an anti-Islam film torched a press club and a government building in northwest Pakistan on Monday, sparking clashes with police that left at least one person dead. Rioting demonstrators battled with police outside a U.S. military base in Afghanistan and the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia.
In Lebanon, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah planned a large protest in Beirut on Monday, after its leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the U.S. must be held accountable for the film and protesters should also demand Arab governments pressure Washington to put a stop to it.
Monday's unrest marked, at least for the moment, a shift to Asia in the week-long violence sparked by the film. Arab countries saw a third day of relative calm after multiple attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts, including one that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, forcing Washington to ramp up security in select countries. At least 10 protesters have died in the week of violence.
Hezbollah's call seemed aimed at keeping the issue alive by bringing out large crowds.
But it also appeared to be trying to ensure it did not spiral into violence, walking a careful line. Notably, Hezbollah called the protest in its own mainly Shiite stronghold of Dahieh in south Beirut, far from the U.S. Embassy in the mountains north of the capital or other international diplomatic missions.
For the group, anger over the low-budget movie that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad provides a welcome diversion from the crisis in Syria, which has brought heavy criticism on Hezbollah for its support of President Bashar Assad. But stoking riots in Beirut could also bring a backlash in the tensely divided country.
The movie portrays Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. Protesters have directed their anger at the U.S. government, insisting it should do something to stop it, though the film was privately produced. American officials have criticized it for intentionally offending Muslims — and in one case, acted to prevent it being shown at a Florida church.
German authorities are considering whether to ban the public screening of the film, titled "Innocence of Muslims" because it could endanger public security, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday. A fringe far-right political party says it plans to show the film in Berlin in November.
Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the West to block the film Monday to prove they are not "accomplices" in a "big crime," according to Iranian state TV.
Such an appeal falls into the major cultural divides over the film. U.S. officials say they cannot limit free speech and Google Inc. refuses to do a blanket ban on the YouTube video clip. This leaves individual countries putting up their own blocks.
Several hundred demonstrators in Pakistan's northwest clashed with police Monday after setting fire to a press club and a government building, said police official Mukhtar Ahmed. The protesters apparently attacked the press club in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's Upper Dir district because they were angry their rally wasn't getting more coverage, he said.
Police charged the crowd in the town of Wari, beating protesters back with batons, Ahmad said. The demonstrators then attacked the office of a senior government official and surrounded a local police station, said Ahmad, who locked himself inside with several other officers.
One protester died when police and demonstrators exchanged fire, and several others were wounded, police official Akhtar Hayat said.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, hundreds of protesters clashed with police for a second day in the southern city of Karachi as they tried to reach the U.S. Consulate. Police lobbed tear gas and fired in the air to disperse the protesters, who were from the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. Police arrested 40 students, but no injuries have been reported, said senior police officer Asif Ejaz Shaikh.
One protester was killed and over a dozen were wounded in similar clashes in Karachi on Sunday.
Pakistanis have also held many peaceful protests against the film, including one in the southwest town of Chaman on Monday attended by around 3,000 students and teachers.
In neighboring Afghanistan, hundreds of people burned cars and threw rocks at a U.S. military base in the capital, Kabul. Many in the crowd shouted "Death to America!" and "Death to those people who have made a film and insulted our prophet."
Protests broke out in several part of Kabul. On the main throroughfare through the city, demonstrators burned tires, shipping containers and at least one police vehicle before they were dispersed. Elsewhere in the city, police shot in the air to hold back a crowd of about 800 protesters and prevent them from pushing toward government buildings downtown, said Azizullah, a police officer at the site who, like many Afghans, only goes by one name.
More than 20 police officers were slightly injured, most by rocks, said Gen. Fahim Qaim, the commander of a city quick-reaction police force.
The rallies will continue "until the people who made the film go to trial," said one protester, Wahidullah Hotak, among several dozen people demonstrating in front of a Kabul mosque, demanding President Barack Obama bring those who have insulted the prophet to justice.
A number of Afghan religious leaders urged calm.
"Our responsibility is to show a peaceful reaction, to hold peaceful protests. Do not harm people, their property or public property," said Karimullah Saqib, a cleric in Kabul.
In Jakarta, hundreds of Indonesians clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy, hurling rocks and firebombs and setting tires alight, marking the first violence over the film seen in the world's most populous Muslim country.
At least 10 police were rushed to the hospital after being pelted with rocks and attacked with bamboo sticks, said Jakarta Police Chief Maj. Gen. Untung Rajad. He said four protesters were arrested and one was hospitalized.
Demonstrators burned a picture of Obama and also tried to ignite a fire truck parked outside the embassy after ripping a water hose off the vehicle and torching it, sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky. Police used a bullhorn to appeal for calm and deployed water cannons and tear gas to try to disperse the crowd as the protesters shouted "Allah Akbar," or God is great.
"We will destroy America like this flag!" a protester screamed while burning a U.S. flag. "We will chase away the American ambassador from the country!"
Demonstrations were also held Monday in the Indonesian cities of Medan and Bandung. Over the weekend in the central Java town of Solo, protesters stormed KFC and McDonald's restaurants, forcing customers to leave and management to close the stores.
The wave of international violence began last Tuesday when mainly Islamist protesters climbed the U.S. Embassy walls in the Egyptian capital of Cairo and tore down the American flag from a pole in the courtyard.
The U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was killed Tuesday along with three other Americans, as violent protesters stormed the consulate in Benghazi. Protesters have also stormed the U.S. Embassies in Tunis and Yemen and held violent demonstrations outside other posts.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt in Kabul, Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, Matiullah Achakzai in Chaman, Pakistan, Sherin Zada in Mingora, Pakistan, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.