ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—About 200 Pakistanis gathered in the capital on Friday, angrily extolling Muslims to unite against the United States, in a protest against an Internet video produced in Southern California that mocks the prophet Muhammad.
Anti-U.S. protests organized by Islamist religious parties and movements were also held in other major Pakistani cities, including Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore and Multan.
The relatively small demonstration in Islamabad was peaceful and kept far from the U.S. embassy compound by a cordon of police in riot gear. Demonstrators listened to Muslim clerics atop a pickup truck denouncing the U.S. government for not suppressing the the video, and later set ablaze an American flag in the middle of the street.
The large contingent of police at the demonstration signaled Pakistan’s intent to keep crowd anger from spiraling out of control, as it did in Libya, Egypt and Yemen this week.
Earlier this week, the Pakistani government issued a measured response to the video and the violence in Libya that followed, denouncing it as “abominable” while also condemning the killing in Libya of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel. The Pakistani government also blocked access to the video on websites.
Many of the demonstrators at the rally in Islamabad wielded wooden sticks that they used to strike large stickers of the U.S. and Israeli flags affixed to the pavement. Mushtaba Hassan, a 20-year-old college student, said the small size of the gathering was “just the beginning. We will continue this and raise it to a much larger scale.
“We are here to tell the government of Pakistan to expel all Americans from Pakistan,” Hassan said. “They have desecrated the honor of the prophet Muhammad, and we want the government to end all relations with the U.S. We want the government to also demand that America punish those involved in the film.”
Jawal Ali, a 21-year-old business graduate student, said he believed Muslims were prepared to sacrifice themselves to safeguard their faith, and he thought the violence against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was justified. “Whatever happened in Libya, it’s good,” Ali said, shouting above the din of chants from the crowd. “People are angry and capable of anything, and they are fully justified in such attacks.”
Photo: Protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration Friday in Lahore, Pakistan. Credit: Arif Ali / AFP /GettyImages