ISLAMABAD — Dozens of people have been injured in Pakistan during violent demonstrations protesting an Internet video that insults the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Authorities are urging agitators not to resort to violence and the government has declared Friday as an official holiday to “peacefully express love for Prophet Muhammad” to register its protest.
For the past several days, Pakistanis have demonstrated throughout the country against the anti-Islamic amateurish video produced in the United States without posing a major security challenge to authorities. But Thursday, the demonstrations turned violent in almost all major cities, including the national capital, Islamabad.
Television footage showed protesters torching public and private property, and clashing with police in some cities. An unspecified number of people were reported injured in the clashes.
In Islamabad, hundreds of chanting demonstrators, mostly activists of religious parties, tried to make their way to the U.S. embassy inside a heavily guarded diplomatic enclave.
Police used batons and tear gas to keep the stone-throwing crowed from the area, which also houses diplomatic missions of other countries. Muslims have also been angered by caricatures of Muhammad published this week in a French satirical magazine.
In view of the rapidly growing crowds in Islamabad, and possible joining of thousands of others from the neighboring city of Rawalpindi, authorities lined up scores off shipping containers on major roads to cordon off key areas in the capital.
The demonstrators dispersed in the evening and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira confirmed to the state-run television troops have been called in to secure foreign missions.
The minister said the “security of the diplomatic community is the responsibility of the Pakistani state and all available means will be used to defend them."
The violent protests prompted the United States to warn its citizens not to undertake non-essential travel to Pakistan.
The demonstrations in the country are expected to grow on Friday. The Pakistani government has also declared a national holiday for Friday to allow people to peacefully register their protest against the anti-Islam video.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf urged Pakistanis to avoid violence.
“I call upon the people of Pakistan to register their protest peacefully, but to observe restraint and not to damage their own property," said Ashraf.
Pakistani authorities also have blocked Internet users from accessing websites that offer the video.