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Army called to protect Islamabad's diplomatic enclave

Published Sep 20, 2012 05:10pm

Demonstrators topple a freight container, placed by police to block a street, as they attempt to reach the US embassy during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Islamabad — Photo by AFP
Demonstrators topple a freight container, placed by police to block a street, as they attempt to reach the US embassy during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Islamabad — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Interior Ministry called on the Pakistan Army in Islamabad on Thursday as over a thousand enraged protesters attempted to reach Islamabad’s heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave in a bid to register their protest against a US-made anti-Islam film.

At least 11 people were injured Thursday as police fired live rounds and tear gas to break up a large crowd of over 1,000 students, many armed with wooden clubs.

The enraged students clashed with law enforcement agencies, pelting them with stones. Several protestors were eventually able to enter the high security Red Zone.

Islamabad’s heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave is home to most Western embassies, including the US, British and French missions.

The crudely made “Innocence of Muslims” has triggered protests in at least 20 countries since excerpts were posted online, and more than 30 people have been killed in violence linked to the film.

There have been dozens of protests around Pakistan over the past week and at least two people have been killed, but Thursday is the first time protests in the capital have turned violent.

Police fired tear gas and live rounds as the protesters tried to break through a barrier of truck containers set up to block access to the diplomatic enclave.

“I was ordered by my boss to disperse the crowd and that is why I had to open live fire but the aim was nearby trees and not the demonstrators,” Zaman Khan, a police officer deployed at the picket said.

The firing forced the protesters to scatter, but they returned later to pelt the police picket with stones.

Student Asif Mehmood demanded police let the protesters through to the US embassy.

Fellow protester 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.”

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said that ''It is our responsibility to protect all our diplomats, all the foreigners.''

He criticized protesters for resorting to violence and suggested that various religious and militant groups among the crowd were to blame.

Most of the protesters appeared to be students affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Flags from other Islamic groups, Jamaat-u-Dawa and the extremist militant group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, could also be seen flying among the crowd.