Pakistani officials distance themselves from minister’s bounty offer
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s government on Sunday distanced itself from remarks made by a federal minister who offered up to $100,000 to anyone who would kill the maker of an anti-Islamic film that sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world.
Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour announced his intent to put up the bounty Saturday, a day after a wave of unrest sparked by the film swept through Islamabad and other major cities in Pakistan, leaving more than 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. One of the people involved in making the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is an Egyptian Coptic Christian from Southern California who has gone into hiding.
A 14-minute trailer for the film released on YouTube portrays the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a fraud. On Saturday, Bilour told reporters in the northwest city of Peshawar that he would be willing to face arrest for announcing the bounty if necessary.
“If any international court declares me guilty for announcing the bounty, then I am ready to be hanged in the name of the holy prophet Muhammad,” Bilour said. “We are not against freedom of expression, but the misuse of that right to hurt the religious sentiments of others is totally wrong and intolerable.”
Bilour’s remarks triggered a strong disavowal from members of his party, the Awami National Party, which is aligned with President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), as well as from top government leaders. A spokesman for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the BBC in an interview that the government had disassociated itself from Bilour’s comments. “He is not a member of the PPP. He is an Awami National Party politician and therefore the prime minister will speak to the head of the [Awami] party to decide the next step,” Shafqat Jalil, Ashraf’s spokesman, told the BBC. “He will stay in his post for now.”
The controversial video trailer triggered massive protests across the Muslim world. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi following a demonstration against the film.
In Pakistan, advertisements featuring President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video failed to discourage thousands of angry Pakistanis from rampaging through the streets of Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore and other cities on Friday in some of the worst popular unrest that the country has seen in years.
--Alex Rodriguez. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali from Peshawar contributed.