Thousands In Pakistan Protest Anti-Islam Movie

Thousands of people across Pakistan are expected to take to the streets to protest against a video made in the U.S. that denigrates Islam. Pakistan's government unexpectedly announced Friday would be a public holiday, saying it would be a day to honor the prophet Muhammed. The government used it as an opportunity to also denounce the video, calling it blasphemy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's get an update from Pakistan, where today has been declared Love the Prophet Day. It's also a day chosen by Muslims to protest a video made in the United States that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. NPR's Jackie Northam is following the story from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

And Jackie, what's been happening since we last spoke?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, there's still thousands of people, really tens of thousands of people, demonstrating in all the major cities here in Pakistan. And along the way, Steve, they've destroyed movie theaters, some commercial buildings, police vans; and they're also focusing on some U.S. consulates and the embassy here in Islamabad. Two police officers were killed in Karachi as they battled huge crowds trying to make their way to the U.S. consulate there. And in the east, in Lahore, protestors are trying to break through police cordons near the America consulate. And crowds are moving toward the embassy here in Islamabad. Now, security forces are trying to prevent more demonstrators from coming in to Islamabad, particularly from the garrison city of Rawalpindi right next door, preventing them from entering the capital.

And at one point, police have fired on those crowds with live ammunition.

INSKEEP: Sounds like, from the reports you're gathering, that the security forces have not been stepping aside here at all.

NORTHAM: No they haven't, and yesterday there were some demonstrations and the police force was just overwhelmed, I mean, they just weren't up to the job. And so they actually did beef up - they put a lot more riot police in all of the cities, particularly here in Islamabad. But they have over - well, it's hard to say if they've overreacted, they've certainly reacted. They fired teargas very early on, you know, when people started marching and that. And as I said, they did open fire - a couple of officers - on people trying to cross the bridge coming in to Islamabad. The government has taken some other steps, so they cut cell phone service throughout the country. It's now back on again. But they've also put in a lot of shipping containers - these large containers - to try to block the main roads in a lot of these cities and keep the people contained if they're going to demonstrate and that type of thing.

But what's happening is the demonstrators are simply, you know, crawling over the shipping containers or turning them over and that type of thing. So, you know, again, a lot more riot police on the street, but, you know, it's hard to say if it's going to - if it's going to do the trick or not. And so far the army is on alert, and it could be called in if the security really starts to unravel.

INSKEEP: You know, at the same time, I've been following the Pakistani press and there are other voices out there. Here's a quote from an article by a man named Raza Rumi, writing in the Express Tribute in Pakistan. He argues, quote: "The quality of the film" - that film that's being protested here - "is so pathetic that it should've been allowed to die a natural death. However, trust some Muslims to be swayed by such brazen provocations, and now all you have is a faux narrative of Islam versus the West."

Are there a lot of people, basically saying, what's going on here? What's the point?

NORTHAM: Well, that's it, you know, there are voices of reason here, certainly. And on the morning shows on TV, the anchors were appealing for calm and saying violence just won't do anything, it'll make Muslims look bad in the eyes of the world. You know, people I've talked to over the past week have expressed the same sentiment. A lot of people, you know, just don't understand why, you know, everybody has reacted so violently to such a stupid film - like your columnist said. But a lot of people did want to use this public holiday as an opportunity to express their disappointment and anger, and really, hurt, about the anti Islam video. But what you see are crowds of young men just wantonly destroying buildings and cheering when they break a security cordon. And that, unfortunately - those are the pictures that the world's going to see.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Jackie Northam in Islamabad. She mentioned that cinemas have been set on fire today. I wanted to mention the Nshot(ph) Cinema, I talked, a couple of years ago, there, with the manager who told the story of living through decades of coups and riots; worked at that cinema, continued playing films like "Avatar," Indian movies, "The Terminator" films, and stayed open, despite everything in Pakistan - for decades. Today, news reports say the Nshot Cinema is on fire. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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