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Army called in as Islamabad protest turns violent

September 21, 2012


? A security persons walks past an office of police which is set ablaze by demonstrators during a protest against blasphemous  film near Red Zone area in the federal capital city. — Photo by ONLINE

ISLAMABAD: Up to 50 people were injured on Thursday as police clashed with thousands of protesters, some carrying banners of rightwing groups, demonstrating in Islamabad against an anti-Islam film.

Law-enforcement personnel fired tear gas and live rounds as demonstrators, many armed with wooden clubs, tried to reach the capital’s heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave, home to most western embassies, including the US, British and French missions.

The government called in the army to protect the enclave after protesters broke through a barrier of containers set up by police to block a road leading to the area.

The demonstrators fought pitched battle around the diplomatic quarters with police and paramilitary personnel for hours. The crudely made ‘Innocence of Muslims’, produced by US-based extremist Christians, has triggered protests across the Muslim world since excerpts were posted online, and more than 30 people have been killed in violence linked to the film.

An initial demonstration of around 1,000 in Islamabad grew to some 5,000 as protesters carrying flags and banners of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jamaat-i-Islami and Sipah-i-Sahaba, which is banned by the government, joined it.

Police fired tear gas and live rounds which initially scattered the crowd. But the protesters returned to pelt police and Rangers with stones and breach the cordon, before torching a police post next to the nearby five-star Serena hotel.

The luxury hotel, much used by visiting westerners, came under attack as a few demonstrators managed to enter the car park and damage vehicles, while others picked up tear gas shells fired by police and threw them into the hotel compound.

Doctor Razia Sultana of the Federal Government Services Hospital said at least 44 policemen and six civilians were injured in the clashes, with the majority of injuries caused by stones and tear gas shells.

A boisterous crowd of around 4,000 held a rally in the eastern city of Lahore, while demonstrations were also held in several other cities of Punjab, including Gujranwala, Sialkot and Bahawalpur.

In Quetta, thousands of students paraded on the main airport road before gathering outside the Quetta Press Club where they burnt US and Israeli flags.

They also burnt down furniture and fixtures at a cinema house.

Besides over dozen separate rallies and protest demonstrations in the provincial capital, thousands of people took part in demonstrations in the Chaman, Qalat, Pishin, Mastung and Noshki districts of Balochistan.

Elsewhere in Balochistan, around 100 Christians denounced the film in their own protest in the border town of Chaman, where trucks supplying Nato troops cross into Afghanistan.

They carried placards and banners that read: “We are with Muslims against blasphemous film” and chanted “Down with America”.

Protest rallies were also held in different parts of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.—Agencies