ISLAMABAD: Police fired water cannon and bullets in the air as they clashed with anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters outside the French consulate in Bath Island, Karachi on Friday.
At least three people were wounded, including an AFP photographer, and taken to hospital, one in critical condition, a doctor in Karachi said.
The protesters belonged to the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is holding nationwide rallies against the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) by the French satirical weekly.
Police had sealed of several streets leading to the area. A Reuters reporter said some of the protesters appeared armed with guns and he saw them firing shots after security forces used water cannon and tear gas to stop the crowd advancing on the consulate.
Express News screengrab of the ongoing clashes.
Further, Rangers have been deployed at the French Consulate, Express News reports. Meanwhile, the police has detained 20 protesters.
About 200 protesters that had gathered have started to disperse and are currently staging a sit-in at Teen Talwar. Further, all roads leading to Teen Talwar have been blocked.
Express News screengrab of protesters.
AFP photographer Asif Hassan was shot and seriously injured as he was caught in the crossfire while covering the protests but was out of immediate danger following surgery.
The party denied it was responsible and blamed the police.
“The bullet struck his lung, and passed through his chest. He is out of immediate danger and he has spoken to his colleagues,” Doctor Seemi Jamali, a spokesperson for Jinnah Hospital where Hassan was taken, told AFP.
She added that Hassan was struck by a non-rubber bullet in his back.
“There were around 350 protesters who wanted to go to the French consulate and when the police tried to stop them they started firing at the police,” senior police official Abdul Khaliq Sheikh told AFP.
A witness at the scene confirmed the police account.
But Hafiz Bilal Ramzan, head of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba Karachi blamed police for the “indiscriminate” firing.
“Police are responsible for those wounded during the protest including Asif Hasan,” Ramzan said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed concern over injury caused to AFP photographer Asif Hassan during protests in Karachi, Radio Pakistan reported.
He prayed for his early recovery and asked authorities concerned to ensure best medical treatment to him.
Meanwhile, all roads leading to the French Embassy in Islamabad have been blocked.
Cities across the nation set to protest against the printing of the cartoons.
Protests in Lahore, Peshawar and Faisalabad against Charlie Hebdo also underway, Express News reports.
The rallies come a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led parliament in condemning the reprinting of the cartoons, regarded by many Muslims as offensive, in Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were targeted by attackers last week, leaving 12 people dead.
Tens of thousands of religious party activists are expected to turn out nationwide, including followers of Jamaatud Dawa, the charitable wing of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group which allegedly masterminded attacks on Mumbai in 2008.
The group has come under the spotlight following the country’s pledge to crack down on all militant groups, including those considered friendly to its interests, in the aftermath of a school massacre last month that left 150 people dead.
The Jamaatul Ahrar faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan meanwhile issued a statement lauding the two brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo assault, saying “they freed the earth from the existence of filthy blasphemers”.
“O enemies of Islam beware! Every youth of this Ummah (Muslim community) is willing to sacrifice himself on the honour of (the) Prophet,” said the statement, which was sent via email by spokesperson Ehsanullan Ehsan.
In addition to rallies by religious parties, lawyers in central Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have vowed to boycott court proceedings to display their displeasure over the sketches.
The magazine this week published a “survivors” issue featuring an image of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), which sold out Wednesday before more copies of an eventual print run of five million hit newsstands in France.