Police, anti-U.S. protesters clash

by Aijaz Hussain, Associated Press

SRINAGAR, India (AP) -- Thousands of angry Kashmiri Muslims protested Friday against an anti-Islam film, burning U.S. flags and calling President Obama a "terrorist," while the top government cleric here reportedly demanded Americans leave the volatile Indian-controlled region immediately.

At least 15,000 people took part in more than two dozen protests across Kashmir, chanting "Down with America" and "Down with Israel" in some of the largest anti-American demonstrations against the film in Asia.

The low-budget film Innocence of Muslims produced by a filmmaker in the United States ridicules Islam and depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman. American and Middle Eastern leaders have denounced the film and condemned acts of violence. In Libya, the American ambassador and three other staff members were killed when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was attacked.

Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have asked the Indian government to block online clips from the film, the region's top police official Ashok Prasad said Friday.

U.S. and Israeli flags were burned at many of the protests across the Muslim-majority region. Hundreds of lawyers in the main city of Srinagar stopped work and marched out of court and into the streets in protest. One protester held a poster with Obama's picture and the words "real terrorist."

"The U.S. citizens visiting Kashmir should leave immediately as the sentiments of the Muslims have been hurt by these pictures," Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad, Kashmir's state-appointed cleric, was quoted as telling the Kashmir Reader, an English daily.

In response to the statement, U.S. Embassy officials sent out a message reiterating its call for citizens to stay away from Kashmir, a volatile territory where many oppose India's rule. Police said they were investigating the cleric's statement.

Though many local separatists groups disavowed the threat to Americans, local authorities put five top separatist leaders under house arrest, a common action when protests or violence is expected.

Jamat-e-Islami, Kashmir's biggest Islamic party, demanded the U.S. government crack down on the filmmakers.

"If America is true in its claim of being against any kind of religious blasphemy, then it should lose no time in taking stern action against these enemies of humanity," a statement from the party said.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, about 200 protesters in Jakarta chanted slogans and held up signs in a largely peaceful protest outside the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy. American diplomatic outposts increased security worldwide this week after clips of the film went viral online and sparked violent protests in the Middle East.

"We came here because we want the U.S. to punish whoever was involved with the film," protester Abdul Jabar Umam said. "They should know that we are willing to die to defend the honor of our Prophet."

About 20 protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, shouted "Allahu akbar!" and handed reporters a letter addressed to the U.S. ambassador expressing their anger over the movie and calling for greater respect for religions.

Indonesia's government has been working to block access to clips of the film online, and a prominent cleric has urged calm. But others are calling for Muslims worldwide to defend the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed.

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a branch of the international network that advocates a worldwide Islamic state and the ones who organized the protest, on its website blamed the U.S. government for allowing the film to be produced and released, calling it "an act of barbarism that cannot go unpunished."

"Why do these people seek problems by disturbing our peace? They knew the risk they were facing by angering people," said Muhammad Al-Khaththath, leader of another hardliner group. "There's only one way to stop our anger: Give the death penalty to the filmmaker and the actors."

In Egypt, riot police clashed with protesters angry over an anti-Islam film blocks away from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as the president went on state TV and appealed to Muslims to protect embassies, trying to patch up strained relations with the United States.

Several hundred protesters massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square after weekly Muslim Friday prayers and tore up an American flag, waving a black, Islamist flag. When protesters tried to move toward the embassy, several blocks away, they were confronted by lines of police who fired tear gas.

"With our soul, our blood, we will avenge you, our Prophet," they chanted.

Ahead of the clashes, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi spoke for more than seven minutes on state TV, his most direct public move to contain protests since an angry crowd assaulted the embassy Tuesday night, scaling its walls and tearing down the American flag.

"It is required by our religion to protect our guests and their homes and places of work," Morsi said. "So I call on all to consider this, consider the law, and not attack embassies, consulates, diplomatic missions or Egyptian property that is private or public."

He denounced the killing of the American ambassador in Libya, who died in an attack Tuesday night on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi along with three other Americans.

"This is something we reject and Islam rejects. To God, the attack on a person to Allah is bigger an attack on the Kaaba," he said, referring to Islam's holiest site in Mecca.

Morsi's own Muslim Brotherhood group has called for peaceful protests to denounce the film.

Protesters have been clashing in Cairo with police since the unrest Tuesday night. More than 240 people have been injured in the clashes, including a number of policemen, and 31 people have been arrested.

In Sudan, a prominent sheikh urged people on state radio to protest outside the main mosque in Khartoum. Sheikh Mohammed Jizouly said protesters would then move to the German Embassy in the city center to protest alleged anti-Muslim scrawling on mosques in Berlin and then to the US embassy, just outside the capital, to protest the film.

"America has long been an enemy to Islam and to Sudan," Jizouly said.

In Israel, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police have boosted the number of officers patrolling east Jerusalem and Jerusalem's old city to thwart potentially violent protests following Muslim prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site. Protesters are expected to march to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, a Libyan airport official said all flights to and from the eastern city of Benghazi were canceled due to security concerns. The nearest airport is 200 kilometers away. The airport official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Benghazi is where the attack on the U.S. consulate took place Tuesday.


Associated Press writers Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Niniek Karminia in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report. AP writer Aya Batrawy also contributed.


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