Violent crowds furious over an anti-Islamic video made in the United States convulsed Pakistan’s largest cities Friday, leaving as many as 20 people dead and more than 160 injured in a day of government-sanctioned protests.
It was the worst single day of deadly violence in one Muslim country over the video, “Innocence of Muslims,” since the protests began nearly two weeks ago in Egypt and later spread to two dozen nations. Protesters have ignored the U.S. government’s denunciation of the video.
Friday’s Pakistan violence began with a television station employee dying from gunshot wounds amid a protest in the northwestern city of Peshawar, then was amplified by armed protests in the southern port city of Karachi that left 12 to 14 dead, Pakistani news media reported. By nightfall Geo, the leading television station, was reporting 19 deaths around Pakistan.
Less-violent protests in other Muslim nations were exacerbated by a French satirical weekly’s publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
In Bangladesh, several thousand Islamist activists took to the streets of the capital, Dhaka, waving banners and burning a symbolic coffin for President Barack Obama that was draped with the U.S. flag. “Death to the United States and death to the French,” they chanted.
Local TV networks reported that a mob ransacked and burned an Anglican church in Mardan, in northwestern Pakistan. Peshawar’s bishop, the Rev. Humphrey Peters, said in a statement that newly installed computers were stolen before the church was set ablaze. There were no reports of killings or injuries to Christians.
In Tunisia, the government invoked emergency powers to outlaw all demonstrations; U.S. diplomatic posts in India, Indonesia and elsewhere closed for the day. France closed embassies and other institutions in 20 countries, while some Muslim leaders in Paris urged their followers to heed a government ban on weekend demonstrations.
In Pakistan, the streets erupted from early morning in Peshawar, where protesters burned two movie theaters. Two people, including TV employee Muhammad Amir, were killed. Mr. Amir’s employer broadcast graphic images of hospital staff giving him emergency treatment before he died, but other journalists condemned that as insensitive and irresponsible.
Protesters tried to reach the city’s heavily guarded U.S. consulate, which has a strong CIA presence. By evening, hospital officials said at least five people died and more than 50 were hurt.
After Friday Prayer, more severe violence erupted in Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan and Karachi, where streets were filled with clouds of tear gas and the sound of gunfire. Protesters in Karachi burned effigies, stoned a KFC restaurant and engaged in armed clashes with police that left 14 people dead and more than 80 wounded by evening.
Peaceful protests had been approved by Pakistan’s government, which declared Friday a national holiday — the “Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad” — as part of an effort to either control or politically capitalize on the rage against the inflammatory video, which depicts Muhammad, the founder of Islam, as a sexually perverted buffoon.
But chaotic scenes in the streets outside suggested that if the government had aimed to harness public anger on the issue, it had dismally failed.
In contrast, the day passed peacefully in neighboring Afghanistan, where officials had been preparing for the protests for days. Clerics at major mosques in the capital, Kabul, acceded to official requests that they preach peace, or another topic entirely.
In Pakistan, the devastation caused by the protests belied their relatively small size. The largest street mobs were estimated to have between 5,000 and 10,000 people — less than would typically attend a mainstream political rally or even a high-profile funeral in some parts of the country.
The government tried to control the momentum of unrest by cutting off cell-phone coverage in large cities for most of the day and, in Islamabad, sealed all exits to the city after Friday Prayer.