Pakistan Blocks Cell Phones, Braces for Massive Protests

Posted September 21st, 2012 at 4:45 am (UTC-5)
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Pakistan has blocked cell phone service in major cities as the country braces for massive protests against a video that insults the Prophet Muhammad and was produced in the United States.

Officials say the service outage has hit 15 cities, including the capital, Islamabad, and the eastern city of Lahore.

Friday has been designated a national holiday and “a day of love for the Prophet Muhammad,” with police urging demonstrators to protest peacefully.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said Friday the country has a “collective responsibility” to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to life and to property.

Mr. Ashraf also told a conference of religious leaders and politicians in Islamabad that Pakistan is demanding the United Nations and other international organizations seek a law that bans “such hate speech, equal to the worst kind of anti-Semitism or other kinds of bigotry.”

Early Friday, a small group of protesters threw their shoes at posters denouncing the United States, Britain, Israel, and Salman Rushdie in front of the Punjab Provincial Assembly in Lahore.

Also Friday, protesters took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where they torched a cinema. At least one demonstrator was injured in clashes with police.

Demonstrations are expected to grow after midday prayers.

Pakistani media say 15,000 people are expected to march on Islamabad's diplomatic enclave and that the government has called on the national army to protect the area.

The low-budget Internet video was produced by an anti-Muslim filmmaker in California. It first sparked protests last week in Cairo and the Libyan city of Benghazi, where U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other embassy personnel were killed. Since then, anti-U.S. protests have spread as far as Indonesia.

The U.S. embassy in Pakistan is airing a public service advertisement on Pakistani television that features President Barack Obama denouncing the video that has sparked protests across the Muslim world.

Meanwhile, the French news agency says police in Paris have banned two anti-U.S. protests planned for Saturday.

The French weekly Charlie Hebdo featured several images of the Prophet Muhammad in its Wednesday issue, including several of him naked.

In response to the magazine's actions, the French government announced it is closing its embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools in 20 countries Friday as a precautionary measure.