Angry over an anti-Islam film, thousands of Pakistani protesters, including many armed with wooden clubs, on Thursday tried to breach the sensitive diplomatic enclave in the heart of Islamabad and clashed with riot police, forcing authorities to call in the army.
Members of student groups, including the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, began gathering outside the Red Zone, which includes the US embassy and missions of other countries as well as sensitive government buildings, at around 2 pm in large numbers to protest against the anti-Islam film 'Innocence of Muslims'.
The crowds swelled about two hours later as thousands of members of hard-line religious groups, including Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Jamaat-ud-Dawah, came to Islamabad from Rawalpindi in a rally.
The protesters fought running battles with riot police for almost three hours. They lobbed stones at police, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons while trying to disperse them. At least nine policemen and six students were injured.
After police failed to bring the situation under control, the Interior Ministry called in the army to quell the protest.
The protesters burnt at least two police posts.
They gathered in large numbers near the five-star Serena Hotel, located a short distance from the diplomatic enclave.
Though authorities had blocked some roads with empty containers, scores of protesters made their way past the barriers.
Footage on TV showed several injured policemen, their uniforms stained with blood, being taken away to safety by their colleagues.
At one point, the policemen ran out of tear gas shells and had to seek further supplies, TV channels said.
The protesters were seen coming to the Red Zone in Islamabad in dozens of cars and motorcycles. Many of them were armed with the sticks.
Pakistan government has decided to observe the 'Love the Prophet Day' on Friday and declared it a national holiday, condemning the anti-Islam film that has sparked protests across the Muslim world.
So far, two persons have died in violent protests against the film in the southern port city of Karachi and the Dir region in the country's restive northwest.
Dozens more have been injured in the protests, mostly organised by religious and hard-line groups.