Violent protests continued against a sacrilegious film for the third day in the twin cities on Friday.
Angry protesters, mostly students from Rawalpindi, set a CNG station, four police and two private vehicles on fire in Faizabad.
Hundreds of young men gathered on Benazir Bhutto Road after Friday prayers with sticks in hands. Their move towards the capital was stopped by the Punjab police at Faizabad. Angry, they turned onto a closed CNG station, setting fire to it.
The police abandoned their position, letting the protesters go rampant. Four police vehicles — a mini truck and three jeeps — at the CNG station, were promptly set on fire by the protesters. Two private cars there were also torched.
A security guard at the station tried to deter the mob by telling them that they too are part of the protest, but his pleas went unregistered. As the station burned, he remarked, “I am surprise to see the way they are protesting by damaging their own property.”
With the police gone and the station torched, the protesters moved on to Islamabad.
The police in the capital were much better prepared. They held their own in front of the Serena Hotel as around 10,000 protesters tried to storm the Red Zone in their attempt to reach the US embassy.
The protesters were out in the federal capital for the second consecutive day against the amateur film production “Innocence of Muslim”, which has hurt Muslim sentiments and sparked demonstrations against the film’s maker across the country.
Police used heavy tear gas shelling, rubber bullets and aerial shots to push the protesters back in a tug-of-war between protesters and police, which started after the Friday prayers and continued for over five hours.
The protesters retaliated by pelting stones at the police, removing two containers that were set up on the Ataturk Avenue to block their way and setting fire to tires and other property.
Around 20 policemen and 25 protesters were injured during the protest. One of the protesters was shot during the aerial firing, but was not seriously injured.
The protesters belonged to several religious parties, religious student wings and madrassahs including, but not limited to, the banned Sipah-e Sahaba and Shabab-e Milli and Jamiya Fareediya. Students from several colleges and universities and supporters of the Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) also joined the protest.
The protesters in Islamabad started gathering in the Aabpara Chowk after the Friday prayers. PTI leaders, including Chairman Imran Khan, addressed a small gathering of supporters and protesters at the chowk. Khan said that an international legislation should be passed to ensure no further actions of disrespect against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Holy Quran.
Meanwhile, protesters from several religious parties and madrassahs formed their ranks in front of the Rehmania mosque in G-6/4 and the Lal Masjid. These protesters started marching west on the Khayaban-e Suharwardy toward the Diplomatic Enclave around 3pm, chanting slogans and carrying flags.
“We are here to show the US our might,” Ataullah, a student of the Jamia Fareediya in sector E-7, said.
Once the protesters reached near the Ataturk Avenue, the crowd quickly turned into a mob and the police picked up the tear gas shelling to push them away. When the police retreated from the Ataturk Avenue to a position in front of the Serena Hotel, the protesters pounced on the opportunity and moved the two containers blocking their way.
Some protesters said divine help was coming their way with the light breeze blowing the tear gas back toward the policemen. But most of the protesters took refuge along the Kashmir Highway and the greenbelt next to the highway during periods of intense shelling.
On Thursday, a rally of protesters coming from Rawalpindi had moved the two containers set up at Kashmir Chowk to prevent their movement. Anticipating a similar move by the protesters, police fortified the same area with a dozen containers for Friday’s rally.
Imran Ahmed, a security guard from Rawalpindi and a supporter of the PTI, said, “If our elected representatives had some spine, no one would dare disrespect Muslims like this film has.”
Muhammad Ali, a student and member of the Shabab-e Milli, had a similar opinion. “These protests cannot achieve much,” he said. “Our elected leaders must take a stand in the international community to condemn the disrespect caused to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by this film.”
While most of the protesters kept confronting the police in front of the Serena Hotel, there were some groups that maintained a distance from the mayhem.
A peaceful protest
A peaceful protest rally organised by the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) marched towards the Red Zone chanting slogans, voicing their love for the Prophet (PBUH). But unlike many other protesters part of rallies organised by other religious outfits who kept hitting back at the police and damaging public property, the MWM-led rally dispersed after registering a peaceful protest.
By 6:15pm, the police had reclaimed their original position near Ataturk Avenue using the cover of thick tear gas, and the protesters started dispersing. On their way back, some protesters set a police check post in Aabpara Chowk on fire. They also broke the windows of a bank in the market.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2012.
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