Pakistan descended into chaos on Friday as a government-sponsored strike day turned ugly with mobs taking control of many city streets and burning and looting property at will besides fighting pitched battles with policemen defending key government and diplomatic installations.
There were reports of 15 casualties, two of them policemen, as rioters ran amok on a day the government said it would protest the anti-Islam film which has caused much heartburn in the Muslim world. Reports also suggested an employee of a local TV company had also died in crossfire between police and demonstrators in Peshawar.
In most cities and towns across Pakistan, rallies were led by religious parties and banned organisations like the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamaat-ud-Dawah. Leaders urged their supporters to protest against the insult to Prophet Muhammad.
Most businesses remained shut on Friday and streets were deserted throughout the day in most city centres while random mobs attacked cars and burnt tyres.
While the protestors had mixed fortunes in terms of reaching foreign embassies or consulates, they did attack government property and also burnt a record number of shops and other buildings, including cinemas and banks. Two of Karachi’s main cinema houses and the main cinemas in Peshawar and Quetta were torched by protesters.
Many angry and frustrated Pakistanis called up newspaper and television offices to express their frustration at the absence of the police in most city areas. Police officials said that they had withdrawn many of their personnel from areas which were not considered sensitive.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Friday demanded a law that bans hate speech aimed at fomenting hatred and sowing discord.
Asia: There were protests in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Bangladesh, where about 10,000 took to the streets of Dhaka to condemn the film and the French cartoons
Arab World: Sunnis and Shiites took to the streets of Lebanon, while there were also demonstrations in Basra in south Iraq and in the Yemeni capital. Tunisia had banned all demonstrations amid fears of violence.
France: France has shut embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools in 20 Muslim countries, fearing fury will spread from US targets in the wake of Prophet toons.
US: A provocative ad that compares Muslim radicals with savages will come up in New York city’s subway system soon. The ad reads, ‘In any war between the civilised man and the savage, support the civilized man’.
Demonstrators attack a cinema during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Karachi. AFP photo