15 Dead After Pakistan Protests Over Anti-Islam Video
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It has been nearly two weeks since Muslims in many countries first took to the streets, angry over an anti-Muslim film made in the U.S. In some places, those protests have continued. That includes Pakistan. Today, the government there denounced the film, and tens of thousands of people took part in demonstrations which turned violent. At least 15 died, and dozens were injured. NPR's Jackie Northam has the story from Islamabad.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Earlier this week, Pakistan's government declared today a public holiday. It was called Love the Prophet Day. It was an opportunity for people to come out and demonstrate against the anti-Islam video in a peaceful way. Analysts say that's what many Pakistanis wanted, just a chance to express their disappointment and hurt over the video. But that's not how it went.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
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NORTHAM: In Islamabad, riot police fired teargas at protesters who hurled stones and tipped over large shipping containers that were supposed to block the main road leading to what's called the red zone, where there's a five-star hotel and government ministries.
Protesters were able to penetrate police cordons and push further towards an area in which there are many embassies, including the American one, but riot police were able to hold back the protesters there. One demonstrator, Rashid Shabir(ph), demanded the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador.
RASHID SHABIR: (Through translator) The purpose of this demonstration is to protest against the movie made by American dogs, but the police have erected obstacles. We will stay here until we reach the American Embassy.
NORTHAM: In another part of Islamabad, security forces fired live ammunition as they battled demonstrators trying to enter the capital from neighboring Rawalpindi. In the southern city of Karachi, at least two policemen were killed trying to stop demonstrators reaching the U.S. Consulate. Several movie theaters were burned to the ground, ATM machines looted and police vans set on fire.
There was similar violence in Peshawar, in the northwest of the country, and Lahore in the east. The government also weighed in on the anti-Islam video. In a televised speech, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called the video blasphemous and an attack on the core beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
PRIME MINISTER RAJA PERVAIZ ASHRAF: Let me make it absolutely clear. This is not about freedom of expression. This is more about hatred.
NORTHAM: Ashraf said Pakistan has started coordinating a response to the video with other Muslim countries.
ASHRAF: This is a simple demand. We are demanding that the United Nations and other international organizations seek a law that bans such hate speech aimed at fomenting hatred and sowing the seeds of discord.
NORTHAM: During the day, American Charge d'Affaires Richard Hoagland was summoned to the foreign ministry, where he received a strong protest from Pakistan's government over the video. American officials have been trying to quell the rising anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan. On the eve of today's demonstrations, television stations aired an advertisement paid for by the U.S. Embassy, featuring President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.
SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video.
NORTHAM: The ad cost $7,000 and had the potential to reach 90 million people, but it didn't do much to tamp down today's violence. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.