Nearly 20 people were killed and hundreds injured on Friday when thousands of angry demonstrators during government-sanctioned protests over an anti-Islam film turned violent in several cities across Pakistan on a day being observed as ‘Love the Prophet Day’.
The worst affected was Pakistan’s financial hub Karachi, where 14 people were killed including two policemen who were shot dead. Around 110 others injured when anti-film rallies turned violent and anarchy prevailed for many hours in some parts of the coastal city.
Officials said nearly 200 people were injured in Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar before the protests tapered off at nightfall.
Rampaging mobs destroyed private and government property worth crores of rupees across the country. Protestors vandalised and torched three cinema halls and the chamber of commerce in Peshawar in the northwest.
Five persons, including an employee of a TV news channel, were killed in violence in Peshawar city, officials said.
ARY News said its employee Mohammad Amir died after being hit by a bullet in police firing. Others were killed in police firing or clashes between protestors and police.
Footage on television showed several armed protestors firing during demonstrations.
In Karachi, mobs torched three cinema halls, three government offices, three banks and several police vans near the Chief Minister’s residence.
At many places, crowds of protestors looted shops and private buildings. A toll plaza and several vehicles were burnt by protestors on the outskirts of Rawalpindi.
Protestors also vandalised a CNG pump, blocked roads by burning tyres and lobbed stones at passing cars.
Hundreds of protestors gathered near the gates of the US Consulate in Lahore before they were driven back by security forces at 7.30 pm.
Paramilitary Pakistan Rangers personnel were deployed after a police post was torched near the mission.
Lahore Police spokesman Niyab Haider said 11 people, mostly policemen, were injured in the clashes.
Thousands of students and members of hardline groups tried to get past police barriers in Islamabad and march to the diplomatic enclave, home to the embassies of the US and most Western countries.
Police used rubber bullets and teargas to push back demonstrators, who continued making efforts to enter the diplomatic enclave till darkness fell.
Army troops were deployed inside the enclave following a violent protest yesterday.
The Jamaat-ud-Dawah spearheaded a large rally on the Mall Road in Lahore after Friday prayers. JuD workers removed barricades while trying to march towards the US Consulate.
A charged JuD activist climbed an electric pole and jumped off while shouting “Allah-o-Akbar”.
He was taken to the Mayo Hospital, where officials described his condition as critical.
Though protests began at some places in the morning, the number of demonstrators in all cities swelled after the weekly Friday prayers concluded at 2 pm.
Earlier, life across Pakistan came to a standstill in the morning due to a holiday declared by the government to protest the anti-Islam film.
The government is observing the day as “Youm-e-Ishq-e- Rasool” (Love the Prophet Day).
Addressing a ‘Love the Prophet conference’ at the heavily fortified Prime Minister’s Secretariat, Prime Minister Ashraf called on the people to protest peacefully without causing harm to life or property.
“The holy Prophet Mohammed gave the message of peace and harmony. It is in this same spirit that I would like to make an appeal to the nation to maintain peace and avoid violence.
It is our collective responsibility to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to life or property,” Ashraf said.
At the same time, he warned that Muslims would not tolerate any attempt to defame the Prophet Mohammed.
“An attack on the holy Prophet is an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims. Therefore, this is something that is unacceptable,” he said.
The anti-Islam film, Ashraf contended, was “not about freedom of expression”.
He said: “This is more about hatred and it also demonstrates blatant double standards. If denying the Holocaust is a crime, then is it not fair and legitimate for Muslims to demand that denigrating and demeaning Islam’s holiest personality is no less a crime?”
President Asif Ali Zardari will convey the emotions and views of Pakistanis when he addresses the UN General Assembly in New York next week, Ashraf said.
He urged the UN and other international organisations to frame a “law that bans such hate speech aimed at fomenting hatred”.
The Love the Prophet conference was initially to be held at a convention centre near the diplomatic enclave, where some 5,000 people gathered for a violent protest yesterday.
Authorities decided after midnight to shift the conference to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat for security reasons.
Cellular phone services were suspended in 15 cities, including Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi, at around midnight for security reasons. They were restored at 6 pm before being suspended again in many cities.
Educational institutions, banks, government and private offices and markets across the country remained closed. There was no public or private transport on the roads and CNG and petrol pumps too were shut.
Roads leading to Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave and US consulates in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar were blocked with shipping containers.
Additional security forces were deployed in most cities and authorities were on high alert.
In Lahore, an additional 15000 police were patrolling the streets and authorities advised foreigners to stay at home.
In Peshawar, security was tightened for offices of foreign organisations and NGOs.
Yesterday, close to 100 protestors and policemen were injured, some of them seriously, during the protest outside Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave.
The protestors clashed repeatedly with riot police, who were unable to disperse the mob despite using batons, teargas and rubber bullets.
Members of the students wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami and banned extremist groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Sipah-e-Sahaba joined the protest.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik blamed the violence during the protest on members of “banned groups”.
He said the Punjab government, responsible for security in Rawalpindi, had done nothing to prevent the protestors from marching into Islamabad.