Pakistan Struck by 'Worst Violence' Against Muhammad Cartoons

Thousands of protestors stormed through two cities in Pakistan on Tuesday, torching Western businesses and shouting slogans in what officials call ‘‘Pakistan’s worst violence against the Prophet Muhammad drawings.’’

At least two people were killed and 11 injured in the rampage as security forces fired into the air and used teargas to disperse the crowd in the eastern city of Lahore, reported the Associated Press. In Lahore, protestors burned down four buildings housing a hotel, two banks, a restaurant and the office of a Norwegian cell phone company.

In addition, witnesses said rioters also damaged more than 200 cars, dozens of shops and a large portrait of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Windows of a Holiday Inn, Pizza Hut and McDonalds’s were broken by demonstrators along with the torching of two movie theaters reported AP.

Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, a hard line cleric and senior leader of an opposition coalition of six religious parties, said, "We have come to the doors of the embassies to take our voice to the ambassadors. There is anger in the Islamic world. If they do not listen, their problems will increase," according to AP.

The conflict began Tuesday in the capital, Islamabad, about 180 miles northwest of Lahore when around 1,000-1,500, mostly students, marched through the main gate of a fenced-off diplomatic district. The rally turned violent when protestors outside the fenced area smashed street lights, burned tires while chanting “Death to America!”

Muslims in the conservative Islamic nation, like others throughout the world, were angered by the publication of the Muhammad caricatures that have been reprinted in Europe and elsewhere including some in the United States.

Muslims consider any depiction of Allah and their prophets to be blasphemy.

Christians among other religious and political leaders have responded to the violent protest against the caricature commenting on freedom of speech, religious sensitivity, and violence.

“While we strongly affirm the right of Muslim people to protest, we strenuously condemn the violence that has often accompanied such demonstrations, particularly on Danish embassies and are grieved by the lives that were lost in the violence,” stated the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches, on Monday.

U.S. President George W. Bush in his first public comments regarding the cartoon controversy said last Wednesday, “We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press," according to AP.

Similarly, the European Evangelical Alliance also voiced its support of freedom of speech but noted the press should be respectful to avoid deep offense.

“The European Evangelical Alliance strongly supports the principle of freedom of speech and an independent media,” EEA said in a written statement released last Wednesday. “At the same time, while we believe people should be free to express what they wish, we long for a society in which people think hard before expressing ideas that are bound to cause deep offence.”

The EEA said it condemns all the violence associated with the controversy, as well as all incitements to violence.

“We believe these violent reactions only serve to make matters worse,” the alliance added.

According to AP, the protest on Tuesday was organized by a “little-known” religious group supported by local trade associations and one of the main Islamic schools in the city. Intelligence officials suspect that members of outlawed Islamic radical groups may have incited the violence.