New Muslim protests erupt over Prophet Mohammad film

KABUL Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:38am EDT

An Indonesian Muslim protester throws back a tear gas canister during a protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Jakarta September 17, 2012. REUTERS/Beawiharta

An Indonesian Muslim protester throws back a tear gas canister during a protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Jakarta September 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Beawiharta

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KABUL (Reuters) - Protesters in Afghanistan and Indonesia burnt U.S. flags and chanted "Death to America" on Monday in renewed demonstrations over a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad that has unleashed a wave of anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim and Arab world.

Indonesian police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who massed outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, capital of the most populous Muslim nation.

In Kabul, thousands of protesters took to the streets, setting fire to cars and shops and throwing stones at police.

"We will defend our prophet until we have blood across our bodies. We will not let anyone insult him," said one protester in the Afghan capital. "Americans will pay for their dishonour."

The demonstrations were the latest across the world provoked by a short film made with private funds in the United States that depicted the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and womaniser.

In a torrent of violence last week, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi and U.S. and other foreign embassies were stormed in several cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by enraged Muslims. At least nine other people have been killed.

The United States has sent ships, extra troops and special forces to protect its interests and citizens in the Middle East while a number of its embassies have evacuated staff and are on high alert for trouble.

The situation poses an unexpected foreign policy headache for U.S. President Barack Obama as he campaigns for re-election in November, even though his administration has condemned the film as reprehensible and disgusting.

Despite efforts early in his tenure to improve relations with the Arab and Muslim world, he faces a number of problems including the continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear programme, the Syrian civil war and the fall-out from the Arab Spring revolts.

US, ISRAEL FLAGS BURNED

The renewed protests on Monday dashed any hopes that the furore over the film might fade despite an appeal from the senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest shrines, for calm over the weekend.

In the Kabul demonstration, protesters shouted "Death to America" and burned the flags of the United Sates and of Israel, a country reviled by many Muslims and Arabs because of the Palestinian issue.

Police Lieutenant-General Fahem Qayem put the number of demonstrators at between 3,000 and 4,000 but said police had the situation under control.

Embassies in central Kabul, including the U.S. and British missions, were placed on lockdown and violence flared near fortified housing compounds for foreign workers.

Rallies also took place in London, Australia, Turkey and Pakistan on Sunday, showing the global scale of the outrage.

In other developments on Monday, Iran said it would hunt for those responsible for making the film.

"The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran condemns this inappropriate and offensive action," First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said. "Certainly it will search for, track, and pursue this guilty person who has insulted 1.5 billion Muslims in the world."

Iranian officials have demanded that the United States apologise to Muslims for the film, saying it is only the latest in a series of Western insults aimed at Islam's holy figures.

The head of Lebanon's Iranian-allied Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, called for protests in Beirut this week and said the United States must be held accountable.

"All these developments are being orchestrated by U.S. intelligence," he said.

The identity of those directly responsible for the film is still murky. Clips posted online since July have been attributed to a man named Sam Bacile, which two people connected with the film have said was probably an alias.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian widely linked to the film in media reports, was questioned in California on Saturday by U.S. authorities investigating possible violations of his probation for a bank fraud conviction. (Additional reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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