x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Hizbollah leader warns US over anti-Islam film as anger flares across Muslim world

Hassan Nasrallah makes rare public appearance to say that anger against movie 'will not be a passing outburst' as protests spread.

Hizbollah supporters raise their hands in support of their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, during a rally in Beirut denouncing an anti-Islam film that has provoked a week of unrest in Muslim countries globally.
Hizbollah supporters raise their hands in support of their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, during a rally in Beirut denouncing an anti-Islam film that has provoked a week of unrest in Muslim countries globally.

BEIRUT // Protests against a film that insults Islam spread further yesterday, with demonstrations and outbreaks of violence in Lebanon, Indonesia and Pakistan, as the eruptions of anger continued across the Muslim world.

Tens of thousands of Hizbollah supporters took to the streets in south Beirut yesterday, as Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shiite movement, made a rare public appearance at the rally, reiterating his condemnation of the film.

"The world should know our anger will not be a passing outburst, but the start of a serious movement that will continue on the level of the Muslim nation to defend the Prophet of God," Mr Nasrallah told cheering crowds.

"The world needs to understand our links to God's prophet ... It did not understand the level of the insult that God's prophet was subjected to through some of the clips of this insulting film."

Mr Nasrallah also warned the United States of further repercussions unless the video is suppressed and called on countries around the world to block websites showing clips of the film, which was produced in the US.

"America, which uses the pretext of freedom of expression ... needs to understand that putting out the whole film will have very grave consequences around the world," he said.

Protests, linked to the broadcast of a trailer for the film that was produced by what appears to be a group of extremist Christians, began last Tuesday in Cairo.

Since then, demonstrations have spread to about 20 countries, leaving more than a dozen people dead. The US government has condemned the film.

Google has reportedly barred access to the video in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Libya and Malaysia, while the government has restricted access to the Google-owned YouTube channel in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, yesterday ordered YouTube to be blocked in the country, so that the "blasphemous" video could not be viewed.

As the protests continued yesterday, more deaths were reported. Hundreds of protesters set fire to a press club and a government building in the north-western Pakistani town of Wari.

Clashes between protesters and police were reported, in which one demonstrator was killed. Another demonstrator was reported to have succumbed to his injuries after being shot in the head during a rally in Karachi on Sunday.

Further outbreaks of violence also took place in Karachi for a second day, as protesters tried to reach the city's US consulate. Thousands also attended peaceful protests against the film in the south-west town of Chaman.

Several protests were reported in Afghanistan. Hundreds of demonstrators marched on a US military base in Kabul, throwing rocks and shouting "Death to those people who have made a film and insulted our Prophet".

On the main thoroughfare through the city, demonstrators burnt tyres, shipping containers and at least one police vehicle before they were dispersed.

Elsewhere in the city, police shot into the air to hold back a crowd of about 800 protesters and prevent them from pushing toward government buildings in central Kabul.

A number of Afghan religious leaders have called for 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, an imam in the capital.

In the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, violent clashes also took place as police tried to push back demonstrators from the US Embassy in Jakarta.

Meanwhile, in Iran, the country's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on western countries to show that they respect Islam and block the film that has generated such widespread outrage.

Hundreds of Palestinians also held a peaceful protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Streets in Dahiyeh, Hizbollah's stronghold in south Beirut, were transformed into a sea of people yesterday, as thousands turned out for the first demonstration following Mr Nasrallah's calls on Sunday night for a week of protests.

He made the appeal for protests hours after Pope Benedict XVI ended his three-day visit to Lebanon.

"The whole world needs to see your anger on your faces, in your fists and your shouts," Mr Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Sunday.

He added that he postponed his call until after the pope's departure. "The whole world should know that the Prophet [Mohammed] has followers who will not be silent in the face of humiliation."

Mr Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public since his organisation battled against Israel in a month-long war in 2006, fearing Israeli assassination.

Yesterday, protesters in Dahiyeh chanted Allah-uh-Akhbar (God is great) "Death to America, Death to Israel", and "We do not accept to be humiliated".

The suburb is far from the US Embassy which is located in the northern suburbs of the Lebanese capital.

Further demonstrations are expected to take place across Lebanon this week, including in the southern town of Tyre and Hermel in the north of the country.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press