PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police opened fire on rioters who were torching a cinema during a protest against an anti-Islam film Friday, and security forces clashed with demonstrators in several other cities in Pakistan on a holiday declared by the government so people could rally against the video. Thousands of people protested in several other countries, some of them burning American flags and effigies of President Barack Obama.
Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani television station, was killed when bullets hit his vehicle in the northwest city of Peshawar, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who was also sitting in the car at the time. The TV channel showed footage of Amir at the hospital as doctors tried to save him. It also showed the windshield of the vehicle, shattered by several gunshots.
Clashes between police and thousands of stone-throwing protesters also occurred in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
The film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad — "Innocence of Muslims" — has sparked unrest in many parts of the Muslim world over the past 10 days, and the deaths of at least 31 people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been linked to the violence. Much of the anger has been directed at the U.S. government even though the film was privately produced in the U.S. and American officials have criticized it for insulting Muslims.
In Iraq, about 3,000 protesters condemned the film and caricatures of the prophet in a French satirical weekly. The protest in the southern city of Basra was organized by Iranian-backed Shiite groups. Some protesters raised Iraqi flags and posters of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, while chanting: "Death to America."
Protesters burned Israeli and American flags and raised a banner that read: "We condemn the offences made against the prophet."
In the Sri Lanka capital of Colombo, about 2,000 Muslims burned effigies of President Barack Obama and American flags at a protest after Friday prayers, demanding that the United States ban the film. They carried signs and banners near the U.S. Embassy after its normal closing time of noon on Fridays.
In Bangladesh, over 2,000 people marched through the streets of the capital, Dhaka, to protest the film. They burned a makeshift coffin draped in an American flag and an effigy of Obama. They also burned a French flag to protest the publication of the caricatures of the prophet. Small and mostly orderly protests were also held in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Pakistan has experienced nearly a week of violent rallies against the film in which three people have died. The government declared Friday to be a national holiday — "Love for the Prophet Day" — and encouraged people to protest peacefully. As in past days, most of the protests were led by hardline Islamist groups, and the turnout was relatively small given Pakistan's population of 190 million people.
The cinema where police opened fire was one of two in Peshawar that several hundred protesters ransacked and set ablaze. They also torched the city's chamber of commerce. Police beat back demonstrators with batons and firing tear gas and bullets.
In Peshawar, at least 11 people were wounded, including four who were shot, said police officer Imtiaz Khan. They included eight protesters and three policemen.
One protester, Iqbal Khan, said he felt compelled to demonstrate because of the blasphemous nature of the film.
"It is a disgrace to all Muslims and has hurt our sentiments and feelings very badly," he said.
Another protester, Shakoor Khan, agreed but said people should demonstrate peacefully.
"We must show how we feel about this act, but we should not damage or destroy our own things. It will not serve any purpose," he said.
The government temporarily blocked cell phone service in 15 major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during the protests, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Blocking cell phones could make it harder for people to organize protests as well.
U.S. officials have struggled to explain to the Muslim world how they strongly disagree with the anti-Islam film but have no ability to block it because of the freedom of speech in the country.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, in a bid to tamp down public rage over the film, is spending $70,000 to air an ad on Pakistani television that features President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video. Their comments, which are from previous public events in Washington, are in English but subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language.
Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called on the international community Friday to pass laws to prevent people from insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
"If denying the Holocaust is a crime, then is it not fair and legitimate for a Muslim to demand that denigrating and demeaning Islam's holiest personality is no less than a crime?" Ashraf said during a speech to religious scholars and international diplomats in Islamabad.
Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, but not in the U.S.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Islamabad, Richard Hoagland, Friday to protest the film. Pakistan has banned access to YouTube because the website refused to remove the video.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also lashed out at the West over the film and the caricatures in the French weekly, Charlie Hebdo.
"In return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they — the West — raise the slogan of respect for freedom of speech," said Ahmadinejad during a speech in the capital, Tehran.
He said this explanation was "clearly a deception."
In Germany, the Interior Ministry said it was postponing a poster campaign aimed at countering radical Islam among young people due to tensions caused by the online video insulting Islam. It said posters for the campaign — in German, Turkish and Arabic — were meant to go on display in German cities with large immigrant populations on Friday but are being withheld because of the changed security situation.
The ministry said the campaign will continue online and in selected magazines.
Germany is home to an estimated 4 million Muslims and authorities have become concerned about home-grown Islamic extremists.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.