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Pak calls in army to quell protest over anti-Islam film

September 20, 2012 20:43 IST

At least 50 people, including policemen, were injured as thousands of protesters, angry over an anti-Islam film, on Thursday clashed with security forces and tried to breach the sensitive diplomatic enclave in the Pakistani capital, forcing authorities to call in the army.

Members of student groups, including the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, began gathering outside the Red Zone in the heart of Islamabad, which includes the US embassy, Indian high commission and missions of other countries as also sensitive government buildings, at around 2 pm in large numbers to protest against the anti-Islam film.

The crowds swelled about two hours later as thousands of members of hardline religious groups, including Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Jamaat-ud-Dawah, came to Islamabad from Rawalpindi in a rally.

The Indian high commission is located less than a kilometre from the gate of the diplomatic enclave. All Indians in the diplomatic area are safe and they are inside the country's mission, sources said.

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 36 policemen and about 15 protesters were injured. After police failed to bring the situation under control, the Interior Ministry called in the army to quell the protest.

The unrest lasted for five hours and came to an end after after sunset. More police and para-military forces have been deployed to maintain order. 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.

The 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 hardline groups.

Protesters were still coming to Islamabad from Rawalpindi on Thursday evening and making sporadic efforts to break through the barricades and enter the diplomatic area.

They broke sign boards and street lights, apart from burning the police posts. The protesters included madrassa students and kids as young as age seven and eight.

Islamabad police appeared to have been caught unawares as the security arrangement around the diplomatic enclave was inadequate. The protesters shouted slogans against the US and President Asif Ali Zardari. They demanded that they be allowed to go to the US embassy.

Many of them claimed that they would not rest till the American embassy is burnt.

The protesters chanted slogans like 'We are ready to die to safeguard the Prophet's honour' and carried placards saying 'Down with America' and 'We are with Muslims against  blasphemous film'.

News about the protest by the students spread on Thursday morning through anonymous SMSes and messages on social networking websites.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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