US embassies targeted as anti-film protests spread
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Angry protests over an anti-Islam film spread across the Muslim world Friday, with demonstrators scaling the walls of US embassies in Tunisia and Sudan, torching part of a German embassy and clashing with police in violence that left at least four dead.
Amid the turmoil, Islamic militants waving black banners and shouting "God is great" stormed an international peacekeepers base in Egypt's Sinai and battled troops.
Egypt's new Islamist president went on national TV and appealed to Muslims to not attack embassies, denouncing the violence earlier this week in Libya that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador.
Mohammed Morsi's first public move to restrain protesters after days of near silence appeared aimed at repairing strains with the US over this week's violence.
The day of protests, which spread to around 20 countries, started small and mostly peacefully in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The most violent demonstrations took place in the Middle East. In many places, only a few hundred took to the streets, mostly ultraconservative Islamists - but the mood was often furious.
The demonstrators came out after weekly Friday Muslim prayers, where many clerics in their mosque sermons urged congregations to defend their faith, denouncing the obscure movie produced in the US that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. It was a dramatic expansion of protests that began earlier this week and saw assaults on the US embassies in Egypt and Yemen and the storming of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Several thousand battled with Tunisian security forces outside the US embassy in Tunis. Protesters rained stones on police firing volleys of tear gas and shooting into the air. Some protesters scaled the embassy wall and stood on top of it, planting the Islamist flag that has become a symbol of the wave of protests: A black banner with the Islamic profession of faith, "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet."
Police chased them off the wall and took the flag down. Two protesters were killed and 29 people were wounded, including police.
The heaviest violence came in Sudan, where a prominent sheik on state radio urged protesters to march on the German Embassy to protest alleged anti-Muslim graffiti on mosques in Berlin and then to the US Embassy to protest the film. Soon after, several hundred Sudanese stormed into the German Embassy, setting part of an embassy building afire along with trash bins and a parked car.
Several thousand then moved in a convoy of buses to the American Embassy, on the capital's outskirts. They tried to storm the mission, clashing with Sudanese police, who opened fire on some who tried to scale the compound's wall. It was not clear whether any protesters made it into the embassy grounds.
The police then launched giant volleys of tear gas to disperse the crowd, starting a stampede. Witnesses reported seeing three protesters motionless on the ground, apparently dead, though there was no immediate confirmation of deaths in the violence.
Gunmen waving the black Islamist banner and shouting "God is great" stormed into the base, firing automatic weapons. They set fire to vehicles and battled with peacekeepers inside, said a senior official with the force, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Four Colombian peacekeepers were wounded and were evacuated to Israel.
Ahead of the expected wave of protests on Friday - a traditional day for rallies in the Islamic world - US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explicitly denounced the movie, aiming to pre-empt further turmoil at its embassies and consulates. The film, called "Innocence of Muslims," ridicules the Prophet Muhammad, portraying him as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.
"The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," she said before a meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco at the State Department. "We absolutely reject its content and message." She said the video was "disgusting and reprehensible."