KASWAR KLASRA andJAWAD R AWAN
ISLAMABAD/LAHORE – Protests against an anti-Islam film continued across the country on Thursday with violent clashes between police and enraged demonstrators at several places, but the worst episode unfolded in the capital where the government had to call in the Army and Rangers.The troops were called in Islamabad after police failed to control enraged protesters attempting to reach the heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave in a bid to register their protest against the profane movie made in the US.At least 36 people including policemen were injured in the clashes while police fired live rounds and tear gas to break up a crowd of thousands, mostly students, many of them armed with wooden clubs. Protesters burnt four check posts of police, pelted the law enforcers with stones, and damaged several vehicles and public property.In a bid to keep the protesters away from the high security Red Zone, authorities had blocked by placing shipping containers the roads and streets leading to the area, which houses US, Britain, France and other foreign embassies; Prime Minister Secretariat, the Parliament building and other government offices; and some five-star hotels.Thousands of students marched towards Islamabad from Rawalpindi, Murree and other areas. Police fired tear gas and live rounds as the protesters, who chanting “We are ready to die to safeguard the Prophet’s (PBUH) honour” and scuffling with police teams, broke through a barrier of truck containers set up to block access to the diplomatic enclave.People from different walks of life, including students of seminaries and other youth, mostly unemployed, participated in the protest. At some places, protesters even made the security men on the run and snatched their helmets. According to eyewitnesses, masked men, armed with batons, scuffled with officials of Islamabad capital territory police and injured as many as 10 policemen including a Station House Officer. They also set police check posts outside the diplomatic enclave on fire.“It happened all of a sudden, a group of protesters, armed with batons, attacked us and injured many of us,” a policeman told TheNation. “I was ordered by my boss to disperse the crowd and that is why I had to open live fire but the aim was nearby trees and not the demonstrators,” Zaman Khan, a police officer deployed at the picket said.Student Asif Mehmood demanded police let the protesters through to the US embassy. “Terry Jones and the filmmaker should be sternly punished for playing with the feelings of Muslims. We will not tolerate this blasphemy,” he said. Fellow protester Rehan Ahmad said: “Islam is often ridiculed by America and the West and blasphemy is committed against our Prophet (PBUH) in the name of freedom of expression.”The crudely made “Innocence of Muslims” has triggered protests in at least 20 countries since excerpts were posted online, and more than 30 people have been killed in violence linked to the profane movie. There have been dozens of protests around Pakistan over the past week and at least four people have been killed – two each in Karachi and Lower Dir. But Thursday was the first time that protests in the capital city of the country turned violent.
Qamar Zaman Qaira said situation in Islamabad was serious, alleging that the Punjab government was not performing its duty. The law enforcement agencies also arrested a dozen of suspects, believed to be members of a banned militant organisation, and shifted them to undisclosed location. Sources said, preliminary investigations revealed they were planning to carry out attacks on Friday’s (today) demonstration called by the government and the opposition parties.Utterly alarmed by the growing protests against the US, the American Embassy has warned its nationals in Pakistan to stay at homes until current wave of protests is over. The State Department also issued an advisory to its citizens not to travel to Pakistan.Meanwhile on Thursday night, Islamabad city administration decided to keep the Red Zone sealed, ahead of government and opposition parties’ call to hold mega demonstrations today to record protest against blasphemous film. Utterly alarmed by the damage to property caused by protesters, the administration had to call for army troops. Troops were seen patrolling on the roads of Islamabad late at Thursday night, while city managers confirmed troops would stay in the capital today to maintain law and order during the demonstrations.
On the other hand, as part of dress rehearsal for today’s major protest rallies and demonstrations, religious parties on Thursday took out rallies and protest demonstrations across the province, demanding immediate arrest of the makers of the film and their trial under the terrorism laws, besides expulsion of all US diplomats from the country.Tehrik Khatm-e-Nabuwat organised a public meeting at Masjid Shuhada and Tehrik Minhajul Quran took out a rally from the Railway Station to The Mall (road), while various other parties staged rallies in different parts of the city.Ameer Hamza and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, addressing the public meeting of Tehrik Khatm Nabuwwat on Thursday, warned that world will not see peace if international legislation is not made to protect the honour of sacred religious figures. They demanded expulsion of US diplomats and severing all ties with the US.Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, while telephonically addressing the Azmat Mustafa Rally, said the excuse of freedom of expression did not hold validity in case of blasphemy since it deeply hurt 1.5 billion Muslims across the world and provoked them to come out on streets to protest the vilest act of the western so-called intellectuals.Addressing an emergency meeting of Muttahida Tehrik Khatme Nabuwwat Rabita Committee, Zahidur Rashedi, Ilyas Chinioti, Abdul Rauf Farooqi, Farid Paracha and Shamsur Rehman Muavia said that holding protest rallies and demonstrations will be meaningless if the government did not announce rejecting the international pressure on amending the blasphemy laws. While many of the religious parties welcomed government for declaring Friday a holiday, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Jamaat Dawah and Jamaat-e-Islami said that declaring a holiday by the government aimed at distracting the public attention and take the steam off the demands of expelling western diplomats.
Today the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) and Tehrik Hurmat Rasool (THR) will hold public meeting on Chauburji Chowk, while Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) will take out “Ya Rasoolallah” rally from Nasir Bagh to GPO Chowk. Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) will take out a rally from Masjid Shuhada, MYC on Multan Road and Jamiat Ahle Hadith from Chungi Amar Sadhu to Walton Road.JUP will arrange rallies from various parts of Lahore Cantt which will converge at Gurumangat where a public meeting will be held. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have also given a call for countrywide protests against the sacrilegious film.Our staffer Bari Baloch adds from Quetta: More than one dozen protest rallies and demonstrations were held in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan on Thursday against the blasphemous movie. Furious protesters torched a cinema in Quetta upon which police baton charged and fired tear gas.The activists of Jamiat Ahle-Hadis, Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Islami Jamiat Tulba, Baloch student organisations Muheudin and Pajjar group, Balochistan University of Information Technology & Management, Polytechnic Institute and children of different private and government-run schools took out rallies and staged demonstrations outside the Quetta Press Club to condemn the movie.Dozens of emotionally charged protesters shouting anti-US slogans ransacked a cinema at Imdad Chowk of the city and later set it on fire. Resultantly, within minutes fire engulfed a large portion of cinema destroying furniture. Police fired tear gas and baton-charged to disperse the protesters. Firefighters were called in which reached timely and extinguished the fire before it could consume the whole building.According to reports reaching from other towns of Balochistan, including Khuzdar, Kalat, Zhob, Loralai, Chaman, Pishin and Dalbandin, protest rallies and demonstrations were held there as well to condemn the anti-Islam movie.