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Anti-film protests spread across Muslim world
CAIRO — Fury over an anti-Islam film spread across the Muslim world Friday, with deadly clashes near Western embassies in Tunisia and Sudan, an American fast-food restaurant set ablaze in Lebanon, and international peacekeepers attacked in the Sinai despite an appeal for calm from Egypt’s Islamist president.
At least four people — all protesters — were killed and dozens were wounded in the demonstrations in more than 20 countries from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Most were peaceful but they turned violent in several nations, presenting challenges for the leaders who came to power in the Arab Spring.
Security forces worked to rein in the anti-American crowds but appeared to struggle in doing so. Police in Cairo prevented stone-throwing protesters from getting near the U.S. Embassy, firing tear gas and deploying armored vehicles in a fourth day of clashes in the Egyptian capital. One person died there after being shot by rubber bullets.
President Barack Obama said Washington would “stand fast” against attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. He spoke at a somber ceremony paying tribute to four Americans — including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens — killed earlier this week when the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was stormed by militants who may have used protests of the anti-Muslim film to stage an assault on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
An elite Marine rapid response team arrived in Yemen’s capital of Saana, where local security forces shot live rounds in the air and fired tear gas at a crowd of an estimated 2,000 protesters who were kept about a block away from the U.S. Embassy, which protesters broke into the day before.
In east Jerusalem, Israeli police stopped a crowd of about 400 Palestinians from marching on the U.S. Consulate to protest the film. Demonstrators threw bottles and stones at police, who responded by firing stun grenades. Four protesters were arrested.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had tried to pre-empt the violence a day earlier by saying the rage and violence aimed at American diplomatic missions was prompted by “an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.”
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi went on national TV and appealed to Muslims not to attack embassies. It was his first public move to restrain protesters after days of near silence and appeared aimed at easing tensions with the United States.
The United Nations Security Council released a press statement late Friday condemning “in the strongest terms” the violence, saying “the very nature of diplomatic premises is peaceful and … diplomats have among their core functions the promotion of better understanding across countries and cultures.”
But the demonstrators came out after weekly Friday prayers. Many clerics in their mosque sermons urged congregations to defend their faith, denouncing the obscure movie “Innocence of Muslims” that was produced in the United States that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad.
In addition to countries where protests have occurred, U.S. embassies around the world, including in France and Austria, issued alerts Friday advising Americans to review their personal security measures and warning them that demonstrations may occur and may turn violent. Other embassies issuing alerts included Mauritania and India. More than 50 U.S. embassies and consulates had released similar alerts Thursday.
Several thousand people battled with Tunisian security forces outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Protesters rained stones on police firing tear gas and shooting into the air. Some protesters scaled the embassy wall and stood on top of it, planting the Islamist flag that has become a symbol of the wave of protests: A black banner with the Islamic profession of faith, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.”
Police chased them off the wall and took the flag down. Two protesters were killed and 29 people were wounded, including police.
Protesters also set fire to the American School adjacent to the embassy compound and prevented firefighters from approaching it. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the school in Tunis was badly damaged and is now “unusable.”
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