ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Fiery anti-U.S. demonstrations swept through Pakistan's capital and several other cities Friday as thousands of people furious over an anti-Islam film privately produced in America clashed with police in one of the worst waves of violence to hit the nation in recent years.
In Islamabad, protesters turned the city’s tree-lined boulevards and avenues into a battle zone as they toppled freight containers set up as barriers and pelted riot police with rocks while unsuccessfully trying to storm a heavily guarded enclave housing the U.S. embassy and other diplomatic missions. Across the country, at least 18 people were killed in the violence and more than 100 more injured.
In the northwest city of Peshawar, protesters torched a movie house and clashed with police, who used tear gas to turn back demonstrators. There were reports of police opening fire to disperse protesters, and at least one person, a driver for a Pakistani television channel, died of a bullet wound, authorities said.
In Karachi, scene of one of the worst spasms of violence Friday, protesters set ablaze cars and several gas stations and movie houses. Pakistani media reported that at least 15 people had died in the violence and an additional 100 injured.
The Pakistani government had sanctioned Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, as a day to honor Islam’s prophet Muhammad and as a day to peacefully protest the release of a crudely made production whose trailer was posted on YouTube that portrayed Muhammad as a womanizer and a fraud. The release of the 14-minute film trailer sparked violent protests in the Arab world and several Muslim countries.
While furor over the video has waned to some degree in Arab nations, it has revved up in Pakistan, where hardline Islamist parties have seized on it to organize virtually daily demonstrations. The fervor peaked Friday, forcing the government to deploy soldiers to defend Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave and block cellphone service in the capital and other large cities. Freight containers were positioned on streets leading to the enclave to bar the way of protesters.
On one street leading to the enclave, throngs of demonstrators toppled two freight containers and clashed with police by the Serena Hotel, which regularly accommodates visiting diplomats and international dignitaries.
“We can never tolerate any blasphemous words against our beloved prophet,” said Shakeel Ahmad, a young shopkeeper, his eyes reddened from clouds of tear gas. “We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our prophet. And we want the Pakistani government to shut down the U.S. embassy, expel all Americans and end all relations with the U.S.”
-- Alex Rodriguez
Photo: Pakistani Muslim demonstrators disperse after police fired tear gas during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Karachi on Friday. Credit: Rizwan Tabassum / AFP /GettyImages