Violent demonstrations in Pakistan left at least 17 people dead and hundreds injured on Friday as fresh protests erupted across the Muslim world against a US-made film and French cartoons mocking Islam.
In Middle Eastern and Asian countries, tens of thousands took to the streets after the main weekly prayers to vent their anger, with little sign that the angry protests would abate.
Western missions were shut across the Islamic world, fearing a further escalation of the backlash over the low-budget film, Innocence of Muslims, that has spread across the world.
France, where a magazine this week published a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed, has shut embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools in 20 Muslim countries, fearing the fury will spread from US targets.
Pakistan bore the brunt of the anger on Friday, with huge crowds of demonstrators throwing stones and setting buildings ablaze to denounce the film.
Twelve people were killed in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and five in the northwestern city of Peshawar, hospital officials said. Demonstrators defied a government call for only peaceful rallies on what was declared a national holiday in honor of the Prophet.
The combined total of wounded in Karachi, Peshawar and in the capital, Islamabad, was 229.
Witnesses estimated that nationwide rallies mobilized more than 45,000 people, mainly members of right-wing religious parties and supporters of banned terror groups, although the numbers were still small in a country of 180 million.
Two cinemas were also torched and ransacked in the northwestern city of Peshawar, on the edge of tribal belt strongholds of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
In Karachi, a policeman who died after being shot when officers used tear gas to disperse a crowd near the US consulate was among the 12 people killed.
The five dead in Peshawar include the driver for a TV channel, which blamed police for his death.
Police and paramilitary troops fired volleys of tear gas to hold off protesters from breaching barricades that sealed access to Western embassies and consulates.
Overall, 19 people have been killed in Pakistan during protests over the past week.
In Islamabad, gunshots were fired outside the five-star Serena Hotel and police baton-charged about 8,000 protesters trying to penetrate the heavily guarded diplomatic enclave.
The government had declared on Friday a “day of love for the prophet,” but for hours shut down mobile telephone networks in an apparent bid to prevent extremists from exploiting the protests to carry out bomb attacks.
“It is our collective responsibility to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to life or property,” Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said as shops, markets and petrol stations shut en masse.
Washington has warned citizens not to travel to Pakistan and spent US$70,000 to air television ads in the country disassociating the US government from the film, made by extremist Christians in the US.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday reminded governments of their “solemn duty” to protect diplomatic missions.
In other Muslim countries, the protests were largely peaceful.
Sunnis and Shiites took to the streets of Lebanon, and there were also demonstrations in Basra in Iraq and in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.