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Pakistan police open fire on crowds protesting anti-Islam video; At least 5 killed

9:25 AM, Sep 21, 2012   |    comments
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PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistani police opened fire on protesters in at least two cities demonstrating against an anti-Islam film on Friday in clashes that have left at least five people dead. Friday was declared by the government a public holiday for people to demonstrate against the video, which ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.

Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani television station, was killed when bullets hit his vehicle in the northwest city of Peshawar, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who was also sitting in the car at the time. The TV channel showed footage of Amir at the hospital as doctors tried to save him. It also showed the windshield of the vehicle, shattered by several gunshots.

Two other people, apparent protesters, were also killed in Peshawar, a sprawling city near the border with Pakistan's tribal region, along the frontier with Afghanistan. In the southern port city of Karachi, meanwhile, officials said one police officer and one protester were killed during clashes resulting from a similar protest.

The film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad has sparked unrest in many parts of the Muslim world over the past 10 days, and the deaths of at least 31 people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been linked to the violence. Much of the anger has been directed at the U.S. government even though the film was privately produced in the U.S. and American officials have criticized it for insulting Muslims.

Pakistan has experienced nearly a week of violent rallies against the film in which three people have died. The government declared Friday to be a national holiday and encouraged people to protest peacefully.

Police could not immediately be reached for comment about the death of Amir. 

The cinema where police opened fire was one of two in Peshawar that several hundred protesters ransacked and set ablaze. A similar number of protesters also torched a toll booth on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad. Police fired tear gas at the angry crowds in both cities.

On Thursday, the government was forced to call in army troops to protect the capital after more than 2,000 stone-throwing demonstrators tried to reach the U.S. Embassy inside a guarded enclave that houses foreign missions and government offices. Security was tight in Islamabad again Friday, as police set up scores of shipping containers to prevent protesters from reaching the diplomatic enclave.

The government also blocked cell phone service in 15 major cities, including Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during the protests, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Service is scheduled to be restored at 6 p.m. local time, he said.

U.S. officials have struggled to explain to the Muslim world how they strongly disagree with the anti-Islam film but have no ability to block it because of the freedom of speech in the country.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called on the international community Friday to pass laws to prevent people from insulting the Prophet Muhammad, saying "an attack on the holy Prophet is an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims."

"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 international diplomats in Islamabad.

Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, but not in the U.S.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also lashed out at the West over the film and the publication of caricatures of the prophet by a French satirical weekly.

"In return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they - the West - raise the slogan of respect for freedom of speech," said Ahmadinejad during a speech at a military parade in the capital, Tehran.

He said this explanation was "clearly a deception."

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, in a bid to tamp down public rage over the film, is spending $70,000 to air an ad on Pakistani television that features President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video. Their comments, which are from previous public events in Washington, are in English but subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language.

In Indonesia, the U.S. closed its diplomatic missions Friday due to demonstrations over the film. Small and mostly orderly protests were held outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and in the cities of Surabaya and Medan. No violence was reported.

In Germany, the Interior Ministry said it was postponing a poster campaign aimed at countering radical Islam among young people due to heightened tensions caused by the online video insulting Islam. It said posters for the campaign - in German, Turkish and Arabic - were meant to go on display in German cities with large immigrant populations on Friday but are now being withheld because of the changed security situation.

The ministry said the campaign will continue online and in selected magazines.

Germany is home to an estimated 4 million Muslims and authorities have become concerned about home-grown Islamic extremists.

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