U.S. ad rejecting film fails to persuade Pakistani protesters

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As violent demonstrations swept through Pakistani cities on Friday, protesters infuriated by a film made in Southern California that mocked Muhammad said they were unconvinced by U.S. efforts to tamp down the anger it has created.

Washington spent $70,000 for an ad broadcast on Pakistani television Thursday that featured President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rejecting the 14-minute film trailer’s contents and message and touting America’s espousal of religious tolerance. The ad was in English but subtitled in Urdu, Pakistan’s primary language.

The move, however, appeared to do little to appease Pakistanis in a country where anti-American sentiment has pervaded society for years and continues to grow.

Several protesters marching toward the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad said they wanted to see Washington do much more, including taking action against Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian immigrant from Cerritos, Calif., behind the “Innocence of Muslims” video.


“Instead of punishing the blasphemer, the U.S. is protecting him,” said Kashif Yaseen, a student from Islamabad. “Our anger will only calm down when the U.S. punishes this man. And the punishment should be the death sentence.”

The Pakistani government’s declaration of Friday as a day of protest was meant to give Pakistanis an opportunity to vent their anger, though officials had urged demonstrators to not resort to violence.

The decision prompted criticism from analysts and commentators, who warned that Islamist parties and movements would exploit the day as license to lash out at the U.S. and the Pakistani government, which many fundamentalist leaders regard as subservient to Washington. “Critics of the government’s decision to declare a holiday,” Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper stated in an editorial Friday, “express reservations that the move would encourage people to participate in the protests, which may turn violent…. The apprehension is not without weight.”

At least 17 people were killed in the violence and more than 100 others were injured, authorities said Friday, revising downward an earlier total of 18 dead. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the blame for Friday’s violence lay with the country’s Islamist parties and fundamentalist mullahs who encouraged protesters to act out violently.

“The [fundamentalist] leaders who called for these protests had the responsibility to calm down the protesters,” Kaira said. “Instead, those leaders incited them.… Today, the enemies of Islam and those involved in this act [of blasphemy] would be very happy.”


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-- Alex Rodriguez and Nasir Khan in Islamabad and Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar

Photo: A Pakistani Muslim demonstrator brandishes a stick near burning police vehicles during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Karachi on Friday. Credit: Asif Hassan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images