ISLAMABAD - Agence France-Presse
Thousands of Islamist activists in Pakistan have staged new demonstrations against a US-made anti-Islam film, as the death toll from the previous day's violent protests rose to 21. AFP Photo
The Pakistan government distanced itself Sunday from a $100,000 bounty offered by a cabinet minister for the death of the maker of an anti-Islam film that has sparked protests across the Muslim world.
Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour invited members of the Taliban
to take part in the "noble deed", and said given the chance he would kill the film-maker with his own hands.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf rejected Bilour's comments, made on Saturday, a day after angry protests across Pakistan against the "Innocence of Muslims" left 21 people dead and more than 200 injured.
"This is not government policy. We completely dissociate (ourselves) from this," the spokesman told AFP.
More than 50 people have died in protests and attacks around the world linked to the low-budget film, which mocks Islam and the prophet Mohammed, since the first demonstrations on September 11.
Nationwide rallies against the movie mobilised more than 45,000 people on Friday, which the government had made a public holiday to allow people to protest, though numbers were comparatively low in a country of 180 million people.
Police used tear gas and live rounds to fight back protesters, many of them members of right-wing religious parties and supporters of banned terror groups, as they attacked shops and cinemas in Karachi and Peshawar and tried to reach Western embassies in the capital.
Bilour, a member of the Awami National Party (ANP), a key partner in the fragile coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) announced the bounty on Saturday.
"I announce today that this blasphemer who has abused the holy prophet, if somebody will kill him, I will give that person a prize of $100,000," he told reporters in Peshawar.
"I also announce that if the government hands this person over to me, my heart says I will finish him with my own hands and then they can hang me." The producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is reported to be a 55-year-old Egyptian Copt and convicted fraudster, based in Los Angeles and currently out on parole.
US media reports say Nakoula wrote and produced the film, using the pseudonym Sam Bacile before being identified. Police questioned him before he went into hiding with his family.
Fresh rallies were held across Pakistan on Sunday to condemn the movie.
The hardline religious Jamaat-e-Islami party observed a "black day" to express solidarity with the families of those killed in Friday's violence.
Similar protests took place in the southwestern city of Quetta. There was no violence.
Bilour's ANP holds power in the deeply religious northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Anti-Western feeling runs high in the area and the party is under pressure from hardline groups.
Analyst and author Hasan Askari said Bilour was trying to keep ahead of public opinion with the bounty.
"There is a common phenomenon of point scoring in Pakistan politics and Bilour wanted to show that 'we are not lagging behind any other group'" he said. "ANP has rivalry with the religious parties who have considerable following in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and they want to show that they are more committed and people should not go to the religious parties."