There were ugly clashes in the country’s five largest cities where tens of thousands took to the streets, throwing stones and setting buildings ablaze, defying calls for peaceful protests on what was declared a national holiday in honour of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
As many as 13 people were killed in Karachi and seven in the northwestern city of Peshawar during the violent protest demonstration against a US-made defamatory movie that has fanned global Muslim anger. The combined total of wounded in Karachi, Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore was over 200, hospital sources said.
Protests started after the Jumma prayers and each mosque of the city organised a rally in its respective area. Witnesses estimated that nationwide rallies mobilised hundreds of thousands of people with conspicuous presence of members of right-wing religious parties and supporters of banned terrorists groups who formed the core of majority of the protests that involved violence and hooliganism.
The numbers were however still small in the Muslim majority country of 180 million. Police fought back with gunshots and tear gas as arsonists and looters among the protesters ranks attacked cinemas, banks, shops, restaurants and vehicles.
The government had declared Friday a “Day of Love for the Prophet (PBUH)“, but for hours shut down mobile telephone networks in an apparent bid to prevent extremists from exploiting the protests to carry out bomb attacks.
“An attack upon the Holy Prophet is an attack on the whole 1.5 billion Muslims. Therefore, this is something unacceptable,” Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said in a speech to politicians, religious leaders and others.
However, he added: “It is our collective responsibility to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to life or property,” as shops, markets and petrol stations shut en masse in an unprecedented closure. Critics of the unpopular government said it was pandering to Islamist parties.
Thirteen people including two police men were killed and over 100 wounded in the violence in the country’s largest city, Karachi, where outbreaks of political and ethnically linked violence have killed hundreds this year. Thousands took to the streets in a series of different demonstrations across the city, which is home to an estimated 18 million.
Angry mobs attacked cinemas, banks, public buildings, fuel pumps and vehicles, and burnt tyres on roads in the commercial hub of the country. They also torched effigies of US President Bark Obama, director of blasphemous film Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and ultra-conservative Christian pastor Terry Jones, who is supporting this movie.
Scuffles broke out when protesters tried to march towards the US consulate, throwing stones at police and trying to remove shipping containers that blocked the road, police said. Officers fired off teargas shells and fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but three policemen were wounded by gunfire from an unknown direction.
One policeman was killed in an exchange of fire with the protesters. A police inspector was shot dead in an attack at Mangopir Police Station. Unidentified miscreants also attacked Jackson Police Station and looted the weapons. The dead body of the killed police inspector was brought to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.
Nine bodies of the protesters were brought to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and ten to the Civil Hospital Karachi. Over a hundred injured protesters were taken to various hospitals of the city where emergency had been declared. Doctor Muhammad Shafqat of JPMC said they had received more than 65 people with injuries. Doctor Muhammad Ayub at the Civil Hospital said his medics had received at least 40 injured.
Despite the tough security arrangements, law enforcement agencies failed to maintain the law and order situation and protesters gave them tough time especially in the red zone housing the US consulate located at MT Khan Road and the surrounding of the Chief Minister House and the Governor House.
Heavy contingents of police and rangers were deployed to prevent mobs from reaching the sensitive installations, but some protesters managed to reach close to the US consulate and the CM House where exchange of stones changed into the exchange of fire which resulted in the death of over a dozen protesters and injures to over a hundred.
The air was filled with the teargas. The enraged protesters set on fire two police mobiles and an armed personnel carrier. Protesters belonging to different age groups, gender, ethnicity and school of thought were still on roads late evening and trying to penetrate through the barricades into the high security zone from surrounding downtown areas.
The law enforcement agencies arrested many members of banded religious outfits from among the protesters in bid to control the violence. Members of various extremist outfits, including Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Jamatud Dawa, were seen active during the demonstrations and violence. Witnesses said that banded extremist organisations also distributed their flags among the ordinary protesters.
The areas of Sultanabad, Maripur, Mirza Adam Khan Road, Tower, MA Jinnah Road, Abdullah Haroon Road and adjoining areas were in extreme trouble where miscreants also torched four cinemas, three branches of a local bank, a building of an insurance company, petrol pumps and more than a dozen vehicles. Scores of wounded protesters and their relatives damaged some hospitals upon not fining appropriate arrangements for the treatment.
Some miscreants also barged into the mobile phone markets at Abdullah Haroon Road and banks and looted cash and valuables. Police managed to flush out the miscreants after hour-long skirmishes. Charged protesters also clashed with police in Shah Latif Town where some nine people were wounded during exchange of fire.
Violent protests also took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and seven people died and dozens were wounded in Peshawar. The dead included driver Muhammad Amir of ARY TV channel while mobs torched and ransacked four cinemas in the city, which runs into tribal belt strongholds of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Complete shutter down was observed in the city while traders and transport owner association also staged protest demonstrations in deferent parts of the city. Huge rally were staged on main Bara Road which culminated at Peshawar Press Club. Similarly, protest rallies were also staged on University Road where protesters scuffled with police and broke the shutters of various shopping centres.
The Lady Reading Hospital said it had three dead, including a TV station employee who was shot when protesters set alight and ransacked a cinema. Doctor Farman at Khyber Teaching Hospital, who used only one name, confirmed that another body had been brought in after the demonstrations. Hospital doctors in Peshawar gave a combined total of 60 people wounded.
Violent clashes erupted when police blocked the main GT Road near Firdous area to stop the march of protesters towards Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. Police resorted to aerial firing when the protesters torched Shabistan cinema on the GT Road. The firing resulted killing of ARY personnel who was part of the team covering the demonstration.
Tribal Union of Journalist condemned the police high handedness and expressed grief over the killing of their colleague. The ARY management expressed deep concern over the killing of Amir and accused the police of murder. “We consider this incident murder. We strongly condemn it. The policeman involved in the firing incident should be arrested immediately and sacked,” said senior ARY executive.
The channel also broadcast disturbing footage of its employee, clearly in a critical condition and receiving urgent medical care in hospital. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had ordered an investigation into Amir’s death and repeated government calls for protests to remain peaceful.
The protesters hurled stones on police on GT Road and attacked Shamma Cinema and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce. A policeman and several protesters were also injured on GT Road and in Tehkal area during the protest demonstrations. One resident of Tehkal Gul Rez son of Said Ahmad also killed during aerial firing of police.
An angry mob also pelted stones at the Peshawar Press Club and broke two CCTV cameras. The protester also damaged the outer gate of Falak Ser Cinema while some shopkeepers opened aerial firing to disperse the angry protesters to guard their shops. Police had taken extra-ordinary measures to foil any sabotage activity in Peshawar metropolis. Heavy contingent of police was deployed outside the US consulate in Peshawar and the Corpse Commander House.
According to a private TV channel, angry protesters also attacked a church in Mardan. In Islamabad, gunshots were fired outside the five-star Serena Hotel and police baton-charged protesters. The crowd of around 8,000 was held back by barricades protecting the heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave where the Rangers were deployed.
However, the protestors burnt down a police post and Tarnol police station. “We were told to protect the protesters from possible attack by terrorists and we did the same with great efficiency,” a higher police official said admitting to their failure.
A police officer claimed that members of banned outfits got involved in such rampages. “Police have spotted members of banned militant organisations through CCTV footage. We have launched a hunt for them,” the official added. Doctor Tanveer Akhtar of Islamabad’s Services Hospital said 15 people were brought in with injuries.
In Rawalpindi, the headquarters of military, demonstrators pelted cars and police with stones and burnt down a booth at a toll plaza and a police checkpoint, said witnesses and officials. Police fired teargas and live rounds into the air in a bid to disperse stone-throwers and protesters, they said, adding that protesters later walked into Islamabad.
Five cops sustained wounds in a police-protesters clash in Faizabad where a mob seriously damaged dozens vehicles, including five police vans, and a filing station. Police used batoncharge and teargas shelling to disperse enraged protesters. Some protesters got involved in the pillage of the filing station.
Moreover, a mob overturned two containers placed by the lawmen to bar the protesters from entering the federal capital. They also uprooted the fences placed by the Parks and Horticulture Agency (PHA) along Benazir Bhutto Road (BBR) and damaged traffic signals and other public property.
City Police Officer (CPO) Azhar Hameed Khokher expressed his resentment over the noncooperation on the part of protesting party leadership. He confirmed that protesters maimed five cops, torched a police jeep and destroyed four others police vehicles. He said the religious and political leadership made a commitment with the lawmen at a meeting to lead peaceful protest but to no avail. The CPO also blamed riots on the Islamabad police.
In Lahore, the situation was no better as the protesters reached the American Consulate – an area which was declared as red zone about 500m from Lahore Press Club. Brazening intense aerial firing, teargas shelling by the lawmen, the protesters torched a police picket outside the consulate building and went up the nearby buildings and pelted stones at the US diplomatic building. Police went after them and arrested them from the roof top.
A total of 15,000 lawmen were deployed in the City while besides the Rangers, 2,000 policemen were positioned around the US Consulate only. The countrywide call for protest against the sacrilegious movie was primarily given by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) and followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Tehrik Hurmat Rasool, Jamaat-e-Islami, Muttahida Tehrik Khatm-e-Nabuwwat Rabita Committee, Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran and other political and religious parties.
Though protests were staged across the city, The Mall and the area around the US Consulate up to Ghari Shahu Bridge, witnessed police-rioters clashes intermittently. The rallies and protests began at the Mall Road soon after the Friday prayers as Jamaat Islami and the PML-N staged protest meetings at Masjid Shuhada, addressed by respective local leaders including Dr Farid Paracha, Dr Wasim Akhtar, Amirul Azeem, Pervaiz Malik, MNA, Mian Marghoob MNA, Kh Imran Nazeer and Kh Salman Rafiq. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed led Jamaat-ud-Dawa workers’ demonstration.
However, these leaders left the venue before the workers clashed with the police in an attempt to move to US Consulate by removing the barriers on The Mall. Meanwhile, the workers of JuD, DPC, THR, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Tahaffuz Namoos Risalat Mahaz and Sunni Tehrik who arrived from other parts of the city joined in.
The clashes on The Mall intensify after the mob pushed away the containers amidst a barrage of teargas by police and batoncharge which was responded by stone pelting. JI’s Ameerul Azeem fell unconscious. Islami Jamiat Talaba, ISO and other parties also join the demonstration that which ultimately reached the Egerton Road. Mehmoodur Rasheed led the PIT protesters, comprising mostly women, to the venue.
Western missions have been shut across the Islamic world, fearing further escalation of a 10-day violent backlash over the low-budget defamatory film that has spread to 20 countries and left more than 40 people dead. In Pakistan alone, 23 people have been killed so far in the protests against a trailer for the crudely made film, “Innocence of Muslims”, made by extremist Christians in the United States.
Washington has warned citizens not to travel to Pakistan and spent $70,000 to air TV adverts in the country disassociating the US government from the film. Pakistan has deployed police and paramilitary troops en masse, and fired off repeated tear gas shells to hold off protesters from breaching barricades that sealed off access to Western embassies and consulates.
France, where a magazine this week published a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), has shut embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools in 20 Muslim countries, fearing the backlash will spread from US targets.
The fast food chain, KFC Friday announced shutting all its franchises in Pakistan in the wake of anti-American protests. “Our KFC restaurants in Pakistan are closing as a precautionary measure,” said Yum! Brands’ spokesman Christopher Fuller, adding, “They will continually monitor the situation to decide when to re-open”.
KFC has more than 60 restaurants in 21 Pakistani cities, and has a significant presence throughout the Muslim world. A division of the company called KFC Arabia has franchises in 11 Middle Eastern cities, where authorities were also braced for demonstrations, with an Islamist militia in Libya’s second city Benghazi calling for protests and Muslims protesting in Lebanon. The decision of KFC closure in Pakistan comes after one of its restaurants was attacked in Lebanon last week, the company said.
There were demonstrations across Asia on Friday in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Bangladesh, where about 10,000 took to the streets of Dhaka to condemn the film and the French cartoons. In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, dozens torched an American flag outside the US consulate in Medan. In the city of Surabaya, protesters chanted “Crush America, crush France” outside the French consulate.
Our team of reporters who contributed to this report are: Mansoor Khan (Karachi), Nader Buneri (Peshawar), Kaswar Klasra (Islamabad), Israr Ahmed (Rawalpindi), and Sajid Zia and Jawad R Awan (Lahore).
Total chaos on Day of Love