Monday, September 17, 2012

Protests continue over stupid online film

(CNN) -- Protests sparked by an online film that mocks Islam's holy prophet entered a second week Monday, raising questions about whether the furor is isolated or a sign of broader anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

On Monday, demonstrators took to the streets in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Lebanon. Answering a call from the leader of the Hezbollah -- deemed a terrorist organization by the United States -- thousands packed the streets of Beirut's southern suburbs and chanted "Death to America!"

The largely peaceful crowd waved the yellow flag of Hezbollah and carried posters that read, "No to the insulting of the prophet."

"Prophet Mohammed is our commander," they chanted. "Down with Zionism."

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called for fresh protests Monday over the video, which he described as "a dangerous turn in the war against Islam and the great prophet."

Earlier in the day in Afghanistan, hundreds of demonstrators attacked police officers along a road leading to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In neighboring Pakistan, at least one person was killed Monday when protesters clashed with police in an anti-American demonstration in the tribal region along the Afghan border.

And in Indonesia, protesters threw rocks and used slingshots to launch marbles at riot police outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. Police responded with tear gas.

The United States has made it clear that it did not sanction the low-budget, amateurish 14-minute movie trailer posted on YouTube and produced privately in the United States. The clip, which has been banned by YouTube in several countries, mocks the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer.

The film clip was relatively unheard of until last Tuesday, when protesters upset about it attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The same day, rioters breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, although there were no casualties.

Islam forbids any depictions of Mohammed, and blasphemy is taboo among many in the Muslim world.

Since last Tuesday, protests have spread to more than 20 nations, and the United States has increased security at its embassies and consulates worldwide.

The demonstrations are part of the turbulence that is inevitable in a region that has undergone tremendous change over the past year, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told CNN on Sunday."It's a change that the United States has backed because we understand that when democracy takes root, when human rights and people's freedom of expression can be manifested, it may lead to turbulence in the short term, but over the long term, that is in the interest of the United States," she said.

Rice described the mobs outside U.S. embassies as a minority. "They're the ones who have largely lost in these emerging democratic processes, and just as the people of these countries are not going to allow their lives to be hijacked by a dictator, they're not going to allow an extremist mob to hijack their future and their freedom," she said.

Libya has taken steps to find and arrest those responsible for last week's deadly consulate attack, arresting dozens over the weekend, according to Libyan officials. The exact number of arrests was unclear. Four others were arrested Thursday.

The United States has also sent FBI agents to the region to investigate the Benghazi attack, which Rice said appears to have been spontaneous.

"We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude this was premeditated or preplanned," Rice told CBS on Sunday. She said "extremist elements" joined in a violent protest outside the consulate that had been "sparked by this hateful video."

While U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters over the weekend that the worst of the violence appeared to be over, the United States was tightening security measures anyway.

Nonessential personnel were ordered to leave the American diplomatic missions in Sudan, Tunisia and Libya. In Yemen, consular services have been suspended until the end of the month. And on Monday, the U.S. State Department -- citing "current safety and security concerns" -- urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon.

But the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the scene of five consecutive days of protests, returned to full staffing Sunday, the U.S. State Department said.

Despite U.S. officials' condemnation of the video, some Muslims do not accept that it could have been produced without Washington's approval, one analyst said.

That is particularly true for people raised in countries whose governments must authorize any film production, Council of Foreign Relations scholar Ed Husain said.

The movie trailer was privately produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a California man on probation for bank fraud.

Reports that Nakoula, who initially told The Wall Street Journal he was an Israeli, is a Coptic Christian have raised concern about a possible backlash against the minority religious group in Egypt, where tensions between Copts and Muslims have risen in recent years.

Reports that Nakoula is a Coptic Christian have raised concern about a possible backlash against the minority religious group in Egypt, where tensions between Copts and Muslims have risen in recent years. Nakoula initially told The Wall Street Journal he was an Israeli.

Muslim and Coptic leaders were scheduled to hold a joint news conference Monday in Los Angeles to condemn the violence.

Google India has blocked access to the video, India's external affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said Sunday in a statement.

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