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Anti-film protests spread across Muslim world

By Aya Batrawy and Lee Keath

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:54 a.m. HST, Sep 14, 2012


CAIRO >> Angry protests over an anti-Islam film spread across the Muslim world today, with demonstrators scaling the walls of U.S. embassies in Tunisia and Sudan, torching part of a German embassy and clashing with security forces at an American fast-food restaurant that was set ablaze in northern Lebanon.

Egypt's new Islamist president went on national TV and appealed to Muslims to not attack embassies, denouncing the violence earlier this week in Libya that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. Mohammed Morsi's first public move to restrain protesters after days of near silence appeared aimed at repairing strains with the United States over this week's violence.

Police in Cairo prevented stone-throwing demonstrators from nearing the U.S. Embassy, firing tear gas and deploying armored vehicles to push them back in a fourth day of clashes in the Egyptian capital.

The day of protests, which spread to around 20 countries, started small and mostly peacefully in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The most violent demonstrations took place in the Middle East. In many places, only a few hundred took to the streets, mostly ultraconservative Islamists — but the mood was often furious.

The demonstrators came out after weekly Friday Muslim prayers, where many clerics in their mosque sermons called on congregations to defend their faith, denouncing the obscure movie produced in the United States that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. At least one protester was killed around the region.

Several thousand demonstrators protested outside the US Embassy in Tunis and battled with security forces, throwing stones as police fired volleys of tear gas and shot in the air. Some protesters scaled the embassy wall and stood on top of it, planting a black flag 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.

The heaviest violence came in Sudan, where a prominent sheik on state radio urged protesters to march on the German Embassy to protest alleged anti-Muslim graffiti on mosques in Berlin and then to the U.S. Embassy to protest the film.

"America has long been an enemy to Islam and to Sudan," Sheik Mohammed Jizouly said.

Soon after, several hundred Sudanese stormed into the German Embassy, setting part of an embassy building aflame along with trash bins and a parked car. Protesters danced and celebrated around the burning barrels as palls of black smoke billowed into the sky until police firing tear gas drove them out of the compound.

Some then began to demonstrate outside the neighboring British Embassy, shouting slogans.

Several thousand then moved on the American Embassy, on the capital's outskirts. They tried to storm the mission, clashing with Sudanese police, who opened fire on some who tried to scale the compound's wall. It was not clear whether any protesters made it into the embassy grounds.

The police then launched giant volleys of tear gas to disperse the crowd, starting a stampede. Witnesses reported seeing three protesters motionless on the ground, apparently dead, though there was no immediate confirmation of deaths in the violence.

Ahead of the expected wave of protests today — a traditional day for rallies in the Islamic world — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explicitly denounced the movie, aiming to pre-empt further turmoil at its embassies and consulates. The film, called "Innocence of Muslims," ridicules the Prophet Muhammad, portraying him as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.

"The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," she said before a meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco at the State Department. "We absolutely reject its content and message." She said the video was "disgusting and reprehensible."

Egypt's Morsi said his TV address that "it is required by our religion to protect our guests and their homes and places of work," he said.

He called the killing of the American ambassador in Libya unacceptable in Islam. "To God, attacking a person is bigger than an attack on the Kaaba," he said, referring to Islam's holiest site in Mecca.

His speech came after President Barack Obama spoke with Morsi by telephone. The Obama administration has been angered by Morsi's slow response to the attack Tuesday night on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. He made little more than vague statements about it for days without an outright condemnation of the breach, in which police did nothing to stop protesters from climbing the embassy walls.

His silence reflected the heavy pressure that Morsi, a longtime figure from the Muslim Brotherhood, faces from Egypt's powerful ultraconservative Islamists. They are using the film issue to boost their own political prominence while challenging Morsi's religious credentials.

Leaders of Egypt's Jihad group, a former militant organization, held a conference in the Egyptian city of Alexandria and said anyone involved in "defamation" of the prophet should be killed. They called on Morsi to cut relations with U.S.

"I appeal to President Mohammed Morsi to cut our relations with those monkeys and pigs," said Rifaei Taha, a leading member of the group.

Several hundred people, mainly ultraconversatives, protested in Cairo's Tahrir Square after weekly Muslim Friday prayers and tore up an American flag, waving a black, Islamist flag. A firebrand ultraconservative Salafi cleric blasted the film and in his sermon in Cairo's Tahrir Square said it was upon Muslims to defend Islam and its prophet.

Many in the crowd then moved to join protesters who have been clashing for several days with police between Tahrir and the U.S. Embassy. "With our soul, our blood, we will avenge you, our Prophet," they chanted as police fired volleys of tear gas.

Elsewhere, one protester was killed in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in clashes with security forces, after a crowd of protesters set fire to a KFC and a Hardee's restaurant. Protesters hurled stones and glass at police in a furious melee that left 25 people wounded, 18 of them police.

In east Jerusalem, Israeli police stopped a crowd of around 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.

Security forces in Yemen shot live rounds in the air and fired tear gas at a crowd of around 2,000 protesters trying to march to the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Sanaa. Though outnumbered by protesters, security forces were able to keep the crowd about a block away from the mission.

A day earlier, hundreds of protesters chanting "death to America" stormed the embassy compound in Sanaa and burned the American flag. The embassy said nobody was harmed. Yemen's president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, quickly apologized to the United States and vowed to track down the culprits.

In Tripoli and Benghazi, civil soceity groups planned demonstrations to voice their opposition to violence and the killing of the U.S. ambassador. Worshippers during Friday prayers said that they will carry flowers and lay them in front of the ambassador's house in Benghazi.

Over the past days, since the attack on the consulate, hundreds held protests in Benghazi and Tripoli city centers mainly against the attack on the consulate.

A small, peaceful demonstration was held today outside the U.S. Embassy in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Hundreds of hardline Muslims held peaceful protests against the film throughout Pakistan, shouting slogans and carrying banners criticizing the U.S. and those involved in the film.

Police in Islamabad set up barricades and razor wire to prevent protesters from getting to the diplomatic enclave, where the U.S. Embassy and many other foreign missions are located. Protests were also held in Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore, where protesters shouted "Down with America" and some burned the U.S. flag. About 200 policemen and barbed wire ringed the U.S. Consulate in Lahore.

About 1,500 protest in the eastern city of Jalalabad, shouting "Death to America" and urge President Hamid Karzai to cut relations with the U.S.

A prominent cleric in Indonesia urged Muslims there to remain calm despite their anger about the film. But Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a branch of the international network that advocates a worldwide Islamic state, on its website blamed the U.S. government for allowing the film to be produced and released, calling it "an act of barbarism that cannot go unpunished."

Additional reporting by Osama Alfitory in Benghazi, Libya; Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen; Bouazza Ben Bouazza in Tunis; Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, Sudan; Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Beirut; Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia.






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