Thousands in Kashmir protest anti-Islam film as cleric demands Americans 'leave'
SRINAGAR, India - The Associated Press
A Kashmiri Muslim with his face covered burns a mock American flag as others shout slogans during a protest in Srinagar. AP photo
Thousands of angry Kashmiri Muslims protested today against an anti-Islam film, burning U.S. flags and calling President Barack Obama a "terrorist," while the top government cleric here reportedly demanded Americans leave the volatile Indian-controlled region immediately.
At least 15,000 people took part in more than two dozen protests across Kashmir, chanting "Down with America" and "Down with Israel" in some of the largest anti-American demonstrations against the film in Asia.
The low-budget film "Innocence of Muslims" produced by a filmmaker in the United States ridicules Islam and depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman. American and Middle Eastern leaders have denounced the film and condemned acts of violence. In Libya, the American ambassador and three other staff members were killed when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was attacked.
Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have asked the Indian government to block online clips from the film, the region’s top police official Ashok Prasad said today.
U.S. and Israeli flags were burned at many of the protests across the Muslim-majority region. Hundreds of lawyers in the main city of Srinagar stopped work and marched out of court and into the streets in protest. One protester held a poster with Obama’s picture and the words "real terrorist."
"The U.S. citizens visiting Kashmir should leave immediately as the sentiments of the Muslims have been hurt by these pictures," Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad, Kashmir’s state-appointed cleric, was quoted as telling the Kashmir Reader, an English daily.
In response to the statement, U.S. Embassy officials sent out a message reiterating its call for citizens to stay away from Kashmir, a volatile territory where many oppose India’s rule. Police said they were investigating the cleric’s statement.
Though many local separatists groups disavowed the threat to Americans, local authorities put five top separatist leaders under house arrest, a common action when protests or violence is expected.
Jamat-e-Islami, Kashmir’s biggest Islamic party, demanded the U.S. government crack down on the filmmakers.
"If America is true in its claim of being against any kind of religious blasphemy, then it should lose no time in taking stern action against these enemies of humanity," a statement from the party said.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, about 200 protesters in Jakarta chanted slogans and held up signs in a largely peaceful protest outside the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy. American diplomatic outposts increased security worldwide this week after clips of the film went viral online and sparked violent protests in the Middle East.
"We came here because we want the U.S. to punish whoever was involved with the film," protester Abdul Jabar Umam said. "They should know that we are willing to die to defend the honor of our Prophet."
About 20 protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, shouted "Allahu akbar!" and handed reporters a letter addressed to the U.S. ambassador expressing their anger over the movie and calling for greater respect for religions.
Indonesia’s government has been working to block access to clips of the film online, and a prominent cleric has urged calm. But others are calling for Muslims worldwide to defend the dignity of the Prophet Muhammad.
Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a branch of the international network that advocates a worldwide Islamic state and the ones who organized the protest, on its website blamed the U.S. government for allowing the film to be produced and released, calling it "an act of barbarism that cannot go unpunished."
"Why do these people seek problems by disturbing our peace? They knew the risk they were facing by angering people," said Muhammad Al-Khaththath, leader of another hardliner group. "There’s only one way to stop our anger: Give the death penalty to the filmmaker and the actors."