Angry demonstrations against an anti-Islam film spread to their widest extent yet around the Middle East and other Muslim countries Friday. Protesters smashed into the German Embassy in the Sudanese capital and set part of it on fire and climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, waving an Islamist banner.
One protester was killed in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in clashes with security forces, after a crowd of protesters set fire to a KFC and an Arby’s restaurant. Protesters hurled stones and glass at police in a furious melee that left 25 people wounded, 18 of them police.
Protests were held in cities from Tunisia to Pakistan after weekly Friday Muslim prayers, where many clerics in their mosque sermons called on congregations to defend their faith, denouncing obscure movie produced in the United States that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad.
The numbers were not huge — in most places, only a few hundred took to the streets, mostly ultraconservative Islamists — but the mood was often furious. The spread of protests comes after attacks earlier this week on the U.S. Embassies in Cairo and the Yemeni capital Sanaa and on a U.S. consulate in Libya, where the ambassador and three other Americans were killed.
After standing aside earlier this week in the face of protesters, security forces in Yemen and Egyptfired tear gas and clashed with protesters Friday to keep them away from U.S. embassies.
Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, went on state TV and urged Muslims to protect foreign diplomatic missions — his first direct public move to contain protests.
“It is required by our religion to protect our guests and their homes and places of work,” he said. He also condemned the killing of the American ambassador in Libya, saying it was unacceptable in Islam. “To God, attacking a person is bigger than an attack on the Kaaba,” he said, referring to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.
His speech was an apparent attempt to repair strained relations with the United States, which was angered by his slow response to Tuesday night’s assault on the embassy in Cairo. Police did nothing to stop protesters from climbing over the embassy walls, and Morsi was largely silent about the breaching for days afterward.
Ahead of the expected wave of protests on Friday — a tradition day for rallies in the Islamic world — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered an explicit denunciation of the anti-Muhammad video, aiming to pre-empt further turmoil at its embassies and consulates. The movie, called “Innocence of Muslims,” ridicules the Prophet Muhammad, portraying him as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.
“The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video,” she said before a meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco at the State Department. “We absolutely reject its content and message.”
“To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible,” Clinton said. “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”
Nonetheless, protests in several places attempted to move on American diplomatic missions — and other Western countries were pulled into the dispute.
Several thousand demonstrators protested outside the US embassy in Tunis and battled with security forces, throwing stones as police fired volleys of tear gas and shot in the air. Some protesters scaled the embassy wall and stood on top of it, planting a black flag with the Islamic profession of faith, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.”
Police chased them off the wall and took the flag down.
In Sudan, a prominent sheik on state radio urged protesters to march on the German Embassy to protest alleged anti-Muslim graffiti on mosques in Berlin and then to the U.S. Embassy to protest the film.
“America has long been an enemy to Islam and to Sudan,” Sheik Mohammed Jizouly said.
Soon after, several hundred Sudanese stormed into the German Embassy, burning a car parked behind its gates and setting fire to trash cans. Protesters danced and celebrated around the burning barrels as palls of black smoke billowed into the sky.
Part of the embassy building was also in flames, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin. “Fortunately… the employees are safe,” he said.
Police firing tear gas drove the protesters out of the compound. Some then began to demonstrate outside the neighboring British Embassy, shouting slogans, while others left, apparently heading to the American Embassy, which is outside of the capital.
In east Jerusalem, Israeli police stopped a crowd of around 400 Palestinians from marching on the U.S. consulate to protest the film. Demonstrators threw bottles and stones at police, who responded by firing stun grenades. Four protesters were arrested.
Security forces in Yemen shot live rounds in the air and fired tear gas at a crowd of around 2,000 protesters trying to march to the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Sanaa. Though outnumbered by protesters, security forces were able to keep the crowd about a block away from the mission.
A day earlier, hundreds of protesters chanting “death to America” stormed the embassy compound in Sanaa and burned the American flag. The embassy said nobody was harmed. Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, quickly apologized to the United States and vowed to track down the culprits.
In Egypt, several hundred people, mainly ultraconversatives, protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after weekly Muslim Friday prayers and tore up an American flag, waving a black, Islamist flag.
A firebrand ultraconservative Salafi cleric blasted the film and in his sermon in Cairo’s Tahrir Square said it was upon Muslims to defend Islam and its prophet.
Many in the crowd then moved to join protesters who have been clashing for several days with police between Tahrir and the U.S. Embassy. “With our soul, our blood, we will avenge you, our Prophet,” they chanted as police fired volleys of tear gas.
Ahead of the clashes, the president spoke for more than seven minutes on state TV, saying, “It is required by our religion to protect our guests and their homes and places of work.”
“So I call on all to consider this, consider the law, and not attack embassies, consulates, diplomatic missions or Egyptian property that is private or public, ” he said.
He denounced the killing of the American ambassador in Libya. “This is something we reject and Islam rejects.
His own Muslim Brotherhood group called for peaceful protests in Tahrir to denounce the film.
A small, peaceful demonstration was held Friday outside the U.S. Embassy in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Hundreds of hardline Muslims held peaceful protests against the film throughout Pakistan, shouting slogans and carrying banners criticizing the U.S. and those involved in the film.
Police in Islamabad set up barricades and razor wire to prevent protesters from getting to the diplomatic enclave, where the U.S. Embassy and many other foreign missions are located. Protests were also held in Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore, where protesters shouted “Down with America” and some burned the U.S. flag. About 200 policemen and barbed wire ringed the U.S. Consulate in Lahore.
About 1,500 protest in the eastern city of Jalalabad, shouting “Death to America” and urge President Hamid Karzai to cut relations with the U.S.
A prominent cleric in Indonesia urged Muslims there to remain calm despite their anger about the film. But Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a branch of the international network that advocates a worldwide Islamic state, on its website blamed the U.S. government for allowing the film to be produced and released, calling it “an act of barbarism that cannot go unpunished.”
Meanwhile, the airport in Benghazi, the city where Tuesday’s attack on the consulate took place, was closed for several hours on Friday. An airport official said the closure was due to security concerns, and the airport re-opened in the afternoon.