Middle East Protests Over 'Innocence of Muslims' Film Spread, Pope Calls for Religious Freedom

Pope Benedict XVI has called for religious freedom to be respected throughout the Middle East Saturday, during his visit to Lebanon. The pope's visit takes place amid the latest wave of protests across the region against the "Innocence of Muslims" amateur film, which has been said to be offensive to Islam.

The pope has spoken to government officials, foreign diplomats and religious leaders at the presidential palace in Mount Lebanon, in the southern suburbs of Beirut on the second day of his visit.

He has chosen to make a call for calm across the region and asked that people be able to practice their faith without fear.

"Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem," he said, according to The Associated Press.

He has said Christians and Muslims in Lebanon have shared the same space, and sometimes the same family in the past, and he has now asked them "if it is possible in families why not in entire societies?"

He said it must be possible for everyone to practice one's religion with freedom and without danger to life.

Pope Benedict wants Lebanon, a country with the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East, to be an example of coexistence for the entire region.

He invited the audience "to testify with courage, in season and out of season, wherever you find yourselves, that God wants peace, that God entrusts peace to us."

Hours after his arrival Friday, violence erupted in northern Lebanon over the anti-Muslim movie. According to Lebanese security officials, a crowd set fire to a KFC and a Hardee's restaurant in the port city of Tripoli.

Protesters clashed with police, who opened fire, leaving at least one attacker dead and 25 people wounded, including 18 police officers who were hit with stones and glass, officials have reported.

Lebanese authorities have increased security for the pope, as tensions continue to escalate. The visit has also been restricted to central Lebanon and northern Christian areas.

Outrage across the Islamic world has been sparked by the release of an amateur film called "Innocence of Muslims," which is said to ridicule the Prophet Muhammad, portraying him as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. The production was extremely small, and many of those involved in the film have since said they were deceived by those central to the production, and that they had no idea the content they filmed would be edited and portrayed in such a way.

The wave of attacks Friday has left at least seven people dead across the Middle East and African areas, including Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, India, Israel, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Qatar, Great Britain, Turkey and West Bank.

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