Protests by tens of thousands of Pakistanis infuriated by an anti-Islam film descended into deadly violence yesterday, with police firing tear gas and live ammunition in an attempt to subdue rioters who hurled rocks and set fire to buildings in some cities. Three people were killed and dozens injured on a holiday, Love for the Prophet Day, declared by the Pakistani government so people could rally against the video.
In the Pakistani city of Peshawar, police fired on rioters who were torching a cinema. Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani television station, was killed when police bullets hit his vehicle at the scene, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who was also sitting in the car at the time.
A protester shot during a demonstration in the city also died, police officer Rohhullah Khan said.
In Karachi, armed protesters among a group of 15,000 fired on police, killing one and wounding another, police officer Ahmad Hassan said. The crowd also burned two cinemas and a bank, he said.
Clashes between police and stone-throwing protesters also occurred in Lahore and Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. Police fired tear gas as well as warning shots in an attempt to keep them from advancing toward US missions in the cities. At least 55 people, including nine police, were injured in the nationwide unrest, according to police and hospital officials.
The film denigrating the Prophet Mohammed, Innocence of Muslims, has sparked unrest in many parts of the Muslim world over the past 10 days, and the deaths of at least 33 people, including the US ambassador to Libya, have been linked to the violence. Much of the anger has been directed at the US government even though the film was privately produced and US officials have criticized it for insulting Muslims.
In Peshawar, several hundred protesters set ablaze two cinemas and the city’s chamber of commerce, and damaged shops and vehicles. Police beat demonstrators with batons.
Police clashed with over 10,000 demonstrators in several areas of Islamabad, including in front of a five-star hotel near the diplomatic enclave where the US embassy and other foreign missions are located.
The government temporarily blocked cellphone service in 15 major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during the protests, an Interior Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called on the international community yesterday to pass laws to prevent people from insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
“If denying the Holocaust is a crime, then is it not fair and legitimate for a Muslim to demand that denigrating and demeaning Islam’s holiest personality is no less than a crime?” Ashraf said during a speech to religious scholars and diplomats in Islamabad.