17 killed in Pakistan as insults to Islam ignite violence; peaceful demos elsewhere

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Muslim protests against insults to the Prophet Mohammad turned violent in Pakistan, where 17 people were killed and nearly 200 others were wounded on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, but remained mostly peaceful in Islamic countries elsewhere.

Pakistan declared Friday a “Day of Love” for the Prophet and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said an attack on Islam’s founder was “an attack on the whole 1.5 billion Muslims.”

Twelve people were killed in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and five in the northwestern city of Peshawar, hospital officials said.

Thousands took to the streets in a series of different demonstrations across Karachi, home to an estimated 18 million, to condemn the film, “Innocence of Muslims,” according to AFP.

Scuffles broke out when protesters tried to march towards the U.S. consulate, throwing stones at police and trying to remove shipping containers that blocked the road, police said.

Officers fired off tear gas shells and fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but three policemen were wounded by gunfire from an unknown direction, Shakeel said.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar, a TV station employee was shot when protesters set alight and ransacked a cinema.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had ordered an investigation into the TV station employee’s death and repeated government calls for protests to remain peaceful.

ARY, the man’s employer, accused the police of murder.

“We consider this incident murder. We strongly condemn it. The policeman involved in the firing incident should be arrested immediately and sacked,” said senior ARY executive Owais Tohid.

The channel broadcast disturbing footage of its employee, clearly in a critical condition and receiving urgent medical care in hospital.

Demonstrations, meanwhile, remained mostly peaceful in other countries elsewhere.

In France, where the publication of cartoons denigrating the Prophet stoked anger over an anti-Islam video made in California, the authorities banned all protests over the issue.

“There will be strictly no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up,” said Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government also banned protests against the images published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Four people were killed and almost 30 wounded last week when the U.S. embassy was stormed in a protest over the film.

Many Western and Muslim politicians and clerics have appealed for calm, denouncing those behind the mockery of the Prophet, but also condemning violent reactions to it.

Muslims generally consider any depiction of the Prophet blasphemous.

Western diplomatic missions in Muslim nations tightened security ahead of Friday prayers. France ordered its embassies, schools and cultural centers to shut in a score of countries.

In neighboring Afghanistan, police contacted religious and community leaders to try to prevent bloodshed. Protests in Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif only attracted a few hundred people and no violence was reported, but a cleric told one crowd: “If you kill Americans, it’s legal and allowable.”

About 10,000 Islamists gathered in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, after Friday prayers, chanting slogans and burning U.S. and French flags and an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Protests went off peacefully in the Arab world, where last week several embassies were attacked and the U.S. envoy to Libya was killed in an initial burst of unrest over the film.

In Yemen, where the U.S. embassy was stormed last week, several hundred Shiite protesters chanted anti-American slogans, but riot police blocked the route to the embassy, according to Reuters.

Anger over the film brought several thousand Shiites and Sunnis together in a rare show of sectarian unity in Iraq’s southern city of Basra, where they burnt U.S. and Israeli flags.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah-run al-Manar television showed thousands of people waving Lebanese and yellow Hezbollah flags as they marched past the Roman ruins of Baalbek and shouted slogans such as “Death to America, death to those who insult the Prophet.”

A Beirut protester, who gave his name as Ahmed, called for a boycott of Western products. “They hate us and want to get rid of our culture and we will resist. We should reject all aspects of their culture too,” the 23-year-old student said, wearing jeans and an orange t-shirt with English writing on it.

The violence provoked by the film has led to a total of about 30 deaths so far, a United Nations official said.

“Both the film and the cartoons are malicious and deliberately provocative. The film particularly portrays a disgracefully distorted image of Muslims,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told a news briefing in Geneva.

He said Pillay upheld people's right to protest peacefully, but saw no justification for violent and destructive reactions.

“In the case of Charlie Hebdo, given that they knew perfectly what happened in response to the film last week, it seems doubly irresponsible on their part to have published these cartoons,” Colville said of the French magazine.