x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

17 killed in Pakistan in anti-US protests

Although violence seemed to have ebbed elsewhere in the Muslim world, tens of thousands demonstrated in Pakistan, where anti-American feeling has long been high.

TUNIS // At least 17 people were reportedly killed yesterday as protests against the film insulting the Prophet Mohammed spread across Pakistan.

Although violence seemed to have ebbed elsewhere in the Muslim world, tens of thousands demonstrated in Pakistan, where anti-American feeling has long been high.

The violence came on a day that the government had declared a national holiday entitled: "Love for the Prophet Day."

Despite calls for peaceful protests, demonstrators rioted beyond the control of police in Karachi, where five people - two protesters and three policemen - were said to have died, and cars, banks and cinemas were set ablaze.

In the city of Peshawar, a television station employee was reportedly killed and more buildings were set alight.

Shashank Joshi, of the Royal United Services Institute in London, suggested that the government may have tried to contain the violence.

"In Pakistan, you essentially have a government that's trying to outflank protesters," he said. "It's trying to take the sting out of the protests by initiating them itself."

Meanwhile, in Tunisia, where demonstrations last week led to the death of four protesters and the burning and ransacking of cars and buildings inside the US Embassy complex, a heavy police presence in the downtown area and a nationwide ban on demonstrations was able to contain unrest.

Tunisia has a strong relationship with France and a huge French Embassy sits on the capital's main street, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, which was surrounded yesterday with tanks, lorries carrying security forces and coils of gleaming new razor wire.

French missions were on alert after a French magazine published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed this week.

At the Fath mosque, popular with some ultraconservative Salafis, where the leader of the hardline Ansar Al Sharia group, Abu Ayyad Al Tunisi, gave an inflammatory speech on Monday, an imam called for calm.

"I call on all Muslims to stay calm and avoid conflicts," went the sermon, broadcast by loudspeaker to hundreds of worshippers gathered outside. "Before all else, take into consideration the good of the country."

However, tensions are likely to remain high as Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Islamist Ennahdha party that leads the interim government, gave an interview in which he took a harder line on extremists than he has before.

"Each time that parties or groups overstep our freedoms in a flagrant manner, we have to be tough, clamp down and insist on public order," he told AFP. "These people pose a threat not only to Ennahdha but to the country's freedoms and security."

In Lebanon, thousands took to the streets in separate protests against the US-made film Innocence of Muslims and the French cartoon.

Security was tightened around locations including French institutions in anticipation of possible violence, but the demonstrations passed off largely without incident.

Hundreds gathered in Martyr's Square in downtown Beirut, for a rally organised by controversial Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmed Al Assir.

A week of demonstrations called for by Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, continued yesterday, with supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement converging on the city of Baalbek following Friday prayers. There were also reports of protesters in the southern city of Sidon burning American flags.

In Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where the American consulate was attacked and burnt 10 days ago, killing four Americans, thousands of people took to the streets to call for the end of armed, uncontrolled militia groups in Libya.

Hundreds of people also gathered in Yemen, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and other countries, in demonstrations that were largely peaceful.

Security was tight at US and European embassies across the region. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said yesterday that "all governments have the duty, the solemn duty, to defend diplomatic missions. They must be safe and protected places".



* With additional reporting by Zoi Constantine in Beirut, Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse