SANAA (Reuters) - The United States has sent a platoon of Marines to Yemen after demonstrators stormed the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa in protest over a film deemed to insult the Prophet Mohammad.
Yemeni security forces battled hundreds of youths on Friday, using batons, water cannon and teargas to beat back protesters, a day after demonstrators stormed the compound.
Four protesters were killed on Thursday and 48 people were wounded, including 10 members of the security contingent assigned to guard the embassy, the Interior Ministry said on its website. A further four people were injured on Friday, a Reuters witness said.
No embassy staff were hurt, but the mission said it expected more protests against the film and that it would be closing its consular services on Saturday.
The Pentagon said on Friday that a platoon of Marines had been sent to Yemen to bolster security at the embassy and was now on the ground in Sanaa.
A source at the Yemeni Foreign Ministry confirmed about 50 Marines had arrived in Sanaa early on Friday on a flight from Bahrain. A Yemeni news website had earlier reported that 150 Marines had arrived in Yemen on Thursday.
The storming of the embassy embarrassed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally who quickly offered an apology to President Barack Obama and ordered an investigation into the incident.
The demonstrators were angered by a film produced in the United States which they say is blasphemous to Islam. It has sparked angry protests across the region, with violent attacks on embassies in countries including Sudan, Tunisia and Egypt.
Military police and soldiers had blocked off all streets in Sanaa leading to the U.S. Embassy early on Friday, but hundreds of protesters still gathered, brandishing placards and shouting slogans which attacked the film and called for the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador.
“Today is your last day, ambassador!”, read one placard, while another said: “America is the devil”.
Demonstrators repeatedly charged police lines to reach the embassy compound, only to be met with barrages of teargas and from water cannon and to be beaten back by police batons. Security forces also fired shots in the air to keep the crowd at bay.
“We can forgive anything, except to insult the Prophet,” said a teenage protester who identified himself as Motahar. Another teenager, Mahmoud, said: “We are going to keep demonstrating until the United States bans the film.”
Protesters blamed the United States for the film, posted on YouTube under several titles, including “Innocence of Muslims”. Washington has condemned the film.
Thursday’s demonstration started as a peaceful march but quickly turned violent when protesters threw stones and placards before attacking the embassy compound.
Yemen, a key U.S. ally, is struggling against multiple challenges since mass protests forced long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down last year.
The United States, eager to help the country recover from the upheaval that has put the impoverished state on the verge of collapse, has said it would provide $345 million in security, humanitarian and development assistance this year, more than double last year’s aid.
Yemen is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is viewed by Washington as the most dangerous branch of the militant network established by Osama bin Laden.
The Yemeni army has been waging a military campaign against AQAP. Washington has been providing logistical support, including the use of drones to target militants.
The Yemeni protests followed Tuesday night’s storming of the U.S. Consulate and a safe house in Benghazi, Libya, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. Obama said the perpetrators would be tracked down and ordered two destroyers to head to the Libyan coast.
The Libyan authorities have said they had have made four arrests in the investigation into the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the three others.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Khaled Abdullah; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Pravin Char