ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — One person was killed and dozens of people were injured when anti-American protesters tried to storm the American Consulate in the southern port city of Karachi and clashed for several hours with the police and paramilitary troops on Sunday evening, rescue workers and police officials said.
The outbreak of violence came after days of peaceful demonstrations in Pakistan against the release of a video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Pakistani officials had increased security in all major cities before Friday Prayer services, which have in the past served as flash points for protests, and until Sunday, calm had prevailed. The American Embassy heresaid in a message posted Sunday evening on Twitter that “all American personnel are safe and accounted for at U.S. Consulate, Karachi.”
“The United States government has absolutely nothing to do with this video,” another Twitter message by the American Embassy said. “We reject its content and its message.”
Karachi is Pakistan’s commercial capital, and the sprawling city is frequently torn by ethnic and sectarian violence. “Things usually get out of hand in Karachi,” Mehreen Zahra-Malik, an assistant editor at The News International, said in an interview.
The demonstration on Sunday was spearheaded by two groups of Shiites, a minority in Pakistan, which had urged demonstrators to march “toward” the American Consulate.
The police responded by blocking the road that leads to the American Consulate with concrete barriers and shipping containers on Sunday afternoon. Then, as the march neared, the police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. That failed to contain waves of angry demonstrators, who grew increasingly agitated, witnesses said.
The police and Rangers, a force controlled by the Interior Ministry, then fired shots into the air as demonstrators rushed through the clouds of tear gas, trying to reach the outer boundary wall of the heavily fortified consulate building. Water cannons were also used on the protesters, who began hurling stones.
Local television broadcast images of young men falling on the roadside after being struck by water jets. One young man ran toward a police officer, who was firing warning shots in the air, and flung his arms open, daring the officer to shoot at his chest.
After battling for a few hours without entering the consulate property, the protesters dispersed. They later assembled in the Numaish Chowrangi neighborhood and staged a sit-in. Local news media reported that the demonstrators had set at least four police vehicles on fire.
Mirza Yousuf Hussain, the leader of one of the two Shiite groups that organized the protest, claimed that violence had broken out in Karachi after police opened fire on “peaceful protesters.” He said in a statement that police fire had killed the brother of the deputy secretary general of his party’s Karachi chapter. He also said two wounded workers were in critical condition. He accused high-ranking police officers of “working to protect American interests.”
In the eastern city of Lahore, thousands of protesters took part in a demonstration led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. While the protest remained peaceful, the fiery speeches were filled with anger as protesters gathered at the Mall, about half a mile from the American Consulate in Lahore.
Mr. Saeed said in his speech that the production crew of the video “must be hanged to set an example.”
Protesters held placards and shouted slogans against the United States government. One placard read, “O Obama, we are all Osama.” Another placard read, “Blasphemy is not freedom of expression, and its sentence is death.” source – NY Times