Pakistani police guarding US, British and French embassies in Islamabad have repelled thousands of demonstrators protesting a widely criticized anti-Islam film. The US has warned its citizens to avoid travel in Pakistan.
Police squads fired tear gas and live rounds overhead as young demonstrators, some armed with wooden clubs, tried to reach Western embassies located in Islamabad's diplomatic enclave. For protection, the area has been surrounded by hundreds of shipping containers.
Medics said 50 people were hurt, including 10 policemen, as demonstrators tried to storm the container barrier. Some carried flags of hardline Islamist groups.
One protestor quoted by news agency AFP, Rehan Ahmad, said: "Islam is often ridiculed by America and the West and blasphemy is committed against our prophet in the name of freedom of expression."
Pakistan Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira accused the groups of trying to fan violence.
On Wednesday, 500 lawyers had also approached the enclave, chanting anti-American slogans and castigating the Pakistan government for not taking strong action against the film.
Similar protests in Iran, eastern Sri Lanka
Similar protests were also reported on Thursday near the French embassy in Iran's capital, Tehran, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and several majority-Muslim towns in eastern Sri Lanka.
So far, a week of unrest across some 20 countries has claimed 30 lives, including a US ambassador killed last week in Benghazi, Libya.
At issue is an Internet trailer of an apparently amateur film "Innocence of Muslims," which was made in California by obscure extremist Christians. It contains depictions of the prophet Mohammed, which are taboo in Islam.
Protests anticipated on Friday
Protests are also expected in Pakistan on Friday after Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed support for peaceful protest against the film and his cabinet declared a national holiday.
The US State Department on Thursday advised US citizens to put off any non-essential travel to Pakistan and those already present to avoid large gatherings.
The US government has already withdrawn non-essential diplomatic personnel from Tunisia and Sudan. France, meanwhile, kept French schools and cultural centers in Egypt closed on Thursday to avoid reprisals for Mohammed caricatures that appeared on Wednesday in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. France has said its embassies and schools will be kept closed in 20 Muslim countries on Friday when protests could arise after weekly prayers.
Charlie Hebdo's director, Stephane Charbonnier, on Thursday denied provoking the violence.
"It's not like I'm slitting someone's throat with a felt-tip pen," Charbonnier said. Of the 1,058 issues the magazine had handled since 1970, only three had resulted in scandals, he said, and all three had related to Islam.
ipj/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)