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Violent clashes over anti-Islam film in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia
TIMERGARAH, Pakistan (AP) — Hundreds of protesters demonstrating against an anti-Islam film torched a press club and a government building in northwest Pakistan on Monday, sparking clashes with police that left at least one person dead. Rioting demonstrators battled with police outside a U.S. military base in Afghanistan and the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia.
In Lebanon, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah planned a large protest in Beirut on Monday after its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said in a televised speech that the U.S. must be held accountable for the film and protesters also should demand Arab governments pressure Washington to put a stop to it.
Monday’s unrest marked, at least for the moment, a shift to Asia in the weeklong violence sparked by the film. Arab countries saw a third day of relative calm after multiple attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts, including one that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, forcing Washington to ramp up security in select countries. At least 10 protesters have died in the week of violence.
Hezbollah’s call seemed aimed at keeping the issue alive by bringing out large crowds.
But it also appeared to be trying to ensure it did not spiral into violence, walking a careful line. Notably, Hezbollah called the protest in its own mainly Shiite stronghold of Dahieh in south Beirut, far from the U.S. Embassy in the mountains north of the capital or other international diplomatic missions.
For the group, anger over the low-budget movie that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad provides a welcome diversion from the crisis in Syria, which has brought heavy criticism on Hezbollah for its support of President Bashar Assad. But stoking riots in Beirut could also bring a backlash in the tensely divided country.
The movie portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. Protesters have directed their anger at the U.S. government, insisting it should do something to stop it, though the film was privately produced. American officials have criticized it for intentionally offending Muslims — and in one case, acted to prevent it being shown at a Florida church.
German authorities are considering whether to ban the public screening of the film, titled “Innocence of Muslims,” because it could endanger public security, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday. A fringe far-right political party says it plans to show the film in Berlin in November.
Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the West to block the film Monday to prove they are not “accomplices” in a “big crime,” according to Iranian state TV.
Such an appeal falls into the major cultural divides over the film. U.S. officials say they cannot limit free speech, and Google Inc. refuses to do a blanket ban on the YouTube video clip. This leaves individual countries to put up their own blocks.
Several hundred demonstrators in Pakistan’s northwest clashed with police Monday after setting fire to a press club and a government building, said police official Mukhtar Ahmed. The protesters apparently attacked the press club in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Upper Dir district because they were angry their rally wasn’t getting more coverage, he said.
Police charged the crowd in the town of Wari, beating protesters back with batons, Mr. Ahmad said. The demonstrators then attacked the office of a senior government official and surrounded a local police station, said Mr. Ahmad, who locked himself inside with several other officers.
One protester died when police and demonstrators exchanged fire, and several others were wounded, police official Akhtar Hayat said.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, hundreds of protesters clashed with police for a second day in the southern city of Karachi as they tried to reach the U.S. Consulate. Police lobbed tear gas and fired in the air to disperse the protesters, who were from the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. Police arrested 40 students, but no injuries have been reported, said Asif Ejaz Shaikh, a senior police officer.
One protester was killed and more than a dozen were wounded in similar clashes in Karachi on Sunday.
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