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Tensions high for day of anti-Islam film protests

Tensions high for day of anti-Islam film protests

21 Eylül 2012 Cuma 10:44
Security forces in several Muslim countries are gearing up for a day of fresh protests against an anti-Islam film made in the US.

In Pakistan, the government has declared a "special day of love" for the Prophet Muhammad.

Washington has paid for adverts on Pakistani TV that show President Barack Obama condemning the film.

Widespread unrest over the amateur film, Innocence of Muslims, has already claimed several lives around the world.

Although the US has borne the brunt of protests, anti-Western sentiment has been stoked further by caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in a satirical French magazine.

Pakistan has urged people to demonstrate peacefully, but the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says the police are prepared for trouble, with mobile phone services cut across the country to reduce security risks.

Protesters have already attacked a cinema building in the northern city of Peshawar, and large crowds are again heading for the diplomatic secrion of the capital Islamabad, where there were clashes between police and protesters on Thursday.

All major political parties and religious organisations have announced protests, along with trade and transport groups, and large crowds are expected following Friday prayers.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told AP news agency that the special day was intended to motivate Pakistan's peaceful majority and not allow extremists to turn the protest into a show of anger against the US.

"We are very confident this will lessen the violence," she said, but added: "There will always be elements that will try to take advantage of these things."

Correspondents say stores, markets and petrol stations are expected to close and transport is likely to grind to a halt.

Embassies closed

On Thursday, police used tear gas and live rounds to control a mass protest against the film outside the US embassy in Islamabad.

Protesters burned an effigy of President Obama and threw missiles at the police. At least 50 people were reported to have been injured.

Dozens of protests against the film had already been held across Pakistan over the past week - killing at least two people - but Thursday was the first time violence erupted in the capital.

The US state department has issued a warning against any non-essential travel to Pakistan.

France has closed its embassies and other official offices in about 20 countries across the Muslim world on Friday after French magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including two drawings showing him naked.

French Muslim leaders condemned the magazine and said an appeal for calm would be read in mosques across the country on Friday.

 Flowers and messages of support have been left outside the US consulate in Benghazi

In Tunisia - where France is the former colonial power - the government has banned Friday protests.

Calls to protest against the caricatures have turned up in Tunisian social media and Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said it was believed that some groups were planning violent protests after Friday prayers.

Rival protests

There are also fears of violence in the Libyan city of Benghazi after rival groups said they would take to the streets.

One group intends to denounce extremism and urge militias to disband, following an attack on the US consulate in the city on 11 September that killed the US ambassador and three other American officials.

Throughout the week, Benghazi residents have left wreaths and placards condemning the attack outside the US mission.

Meanwhile, Ansar al-Sharia, the jihadist militia blamed by some local people for the attack, called for protests "in defence of the Prophet Mohammed". Both protests are scheduled for the same time.

In the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, protests are planned outside both the French and US embassies on Friday.

In Cairo, where the protests against the film began, Egyptian security forces are patrolling the streets around the US embassy.

Radical Islamists have clashed with security forces there in recent days, although President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has stayed away from the unrest, only condemning the film and calling for peaceful demonstrations.

The low-budget film that sparked the controversy was made in the US and is said to insult the Prophet Muhammad.

Its exact origins are unclear and the alleged producer for the trailer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is in hiding.

Anti-US sentiment grew after a trailer for the film dubbed into Arabic was released on YouTube earlier this month.  (BBC)

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