ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan continued to seethe Wednesday over the release in the U.S. of a movie trailer mocking Islam, as legions of protesters rallied in several large cities for a sixth day and the government signaled its own discontent by declaring Friday as a national day “of peaceful protest.”
Officials said the move was meant to show the government's solidarity with the Muslim world and its anger over the film, which depicts the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a thug. Friday will be observed as a national holiday, and protests are expected to be held across the country.
“The message we want to convey to the international community by observing Friday as a protest day ... is that we cannot tolerate any kind of blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad,” said Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.
Though U.S. leaders have denounced the film, Pakistanis have continued to channel their anger toward the American government. Throngs of protesters in Karachi and Lahore in recent days have tried to reach U.S. consulates in those cities.
The pace of protests has picked up steadily in recent days. On Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators rallied in Karachi, Lahore and the northwest city of Peshawar as well as smaller cities in protests that were largely nonviolent. The gatherings have for the most part been organized by right-wing religious groups, including the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.
Though officials in Islamabad endorsed protests as a means of expressing anger about the film, they also urged Pakistanis to demonstrate without violence.
“I call upon the people of Pakistan to register their protest peacefully, observe restraint and refrain from damaging their own property,” Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Kaira acknowledged Washington’s condemnation of the film, but he also urged the U.S. and other nations to enact laws to prevent the release of blasphemous material in the future. “We cannot accept any sort of argument that the blasphemous film is ... freedom of expression or freedom of speech,” Kaira said.
Earlier this week, Pakistani authorities shut down YouTube, the website that carried a video trailer of the film.
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--Alex Rodriguez. Special correspondent Nasir Khan contributed.
Photo: Pakistani activists of the Sunni Muslim party Jamaat-e-Islami burn a U.S. flag during a protest in Lahore. Credit: Arif Ali / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images