Pakistan Rioting Over Book Spreads to 2nd City and Into India
Muslim demonstrators enraged over publication of a book they consider blasphemous continued their rampage Monday as protests spread to a second Pakistani city and into India, where one protester was killed and more than 100 others wounded.
The violence in India brought the two-day casualty toll to six dead and 180 people wounded in the demonstrations over Western publication of “The Satanic Verses,” a novel by Indian-born author Salman Rushdie.
And Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned late Monday from a visit to China, said the protests may have been planned to destabilize her government. Pointing out that the book is banned in Pakistan, she said, “The question is whether these agitations were really against the book . . . or was the book a pretext by those who lost the election. . . . The dying order always likes to give a few kicks before it goes down.” Bhutto became prime minister in November.
The novel--a contender for Britain’s highest literary award, the Booker Prize--takes its name from the verses the Prophet Mohammed removed from Islam’s holy book, the Koran, on grounds they were inspired by Satan. The protesters say the book offends Muslims by suggesting that the Prophet was fallible.
Outrage over the book--which has also been banned in India, South Africa and Egypt--spurred hundreds of Muslim demonstrators Sunday to attack the U.S. cultural center in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Police opened fire on the demonstrators, reportedly killing five people and leaving at least 80 wounded.
U.S. Voices Regret
In Washington, the Bush Administration, trying to head off a new round of anti-Americanism, expressed regret Monday over the deaths in Islamabad.
However, State Department spokesman Charles Redman insisted the United States has done nothing to provoke the outburst.
Redman said the director of the cultural center had agreed to accept a letter of protest after being assured the demonstration would be peaceful. But, he said, some militants began to throw stones at the center.
On Monday in Islamabad, demonstrators attacked businesses that remained open despite a strike to protest police handling of Sunday’s riot. The violence also spread to nearby Rawalpindi and across the border into northwest India, where clashes between demonstrators and police left at least one person dead and more than 100 wounded.
Rushdie, who lives in Britain, said he was “horrified” by the violence but didn’t feel responsible.
“The deaths aren’t on my conscience,” Rushdie, a Muslim, told the Times of London. “I am a writer trying to deal with real issues. I have not arranged any marches on embassies or arranged for any shots to be fired. I am completely horrified.”
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