Pakistan declares national holiday

Filed on September 19, 2012

The Pakistan government on Wednesday declared Friday a national holiday in honour of Prophet Muhammad (peace be up on him) and called for peaceful protests against a US-made film deemed insulting to Islam.

As thousands took to the streets for another day of demonstrations against the “Innocence of Muslims” movie, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the cabinet had decided to make Friday an official “day of expression of love for the Prophet”.

The government’s sudden announcement came after religious parties — who have dominated dozens of rallies against the movie across Pakistan — called for a day of protest on Friday to denounce the film.

A group of lawyers demonstrating in Islamabad on Wednesday also slammed the government’s “criminal silence” on the issue.

“We will send a message to the world that Muslims of Pakistan are protesting about this, and we won’t tolerate even a single sentence against the dignity of the holy Prophet,” Kaira told a news conference.

Kaira said Pakistan respected freedom of speech but “hateful material” should not be allowed.

“The argument that the blasphemous film is part of freedom of expression or speech is not viable and we expect the international community that it will take all steps and make laws that avoid such incidents in future,” he said.

In Islamabad, around 500 protesting lawyers broke through a gate to the heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave, chanting anti-US slogans and castigating the Pakistan government for failing to take strong action against the film.

A US flag was laid on the ground and the protesting lawyers walked over it one by one. Later they burnt the flag before the rally ended peacefully.

Police said rallies were staged in more than a dozen small towns in central Punjab province where local traders observed strikes to express solidarity with the protesters.

Pakistan, along with Afghanistan and Bangladesh, blocked video-sharing website YouTube this week after it failed to remove the offending film.

Wednesday also saw the publication by a French magazine of a series of provocative cartoons which are likely to further inflame Muslim anger.

Embassies, consulates, cultural centres and international French schools in around 20 countries will be closed on Friday for fear of being targeted in demonstrations following weekly prayers.

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