KARACHI, Pakistan (ABP) – Violence continues in Muslim countries worldwide as protests over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad increase in fervor.
In Pakistan, more than 50,000 people chanted anti-American slogans and burned flags during a protest that came a day after a March 3 nationwide workers strike, which was organized by Islamic leaders. The demonstrations came one day after President Bush arrived in Pakistan, setting a decidedly volatile tone for the trip.
And while some countries, like Indonesia, have reopened their Danish embassies, 20,000 protestors in Erzurum, Turkey, chanted their hatred of Denmark March 6, according to AP reports.
In the meantime, Pakistani schools closed March 3, allowing protesting children to chant “Hang those who insulted the prophet” in the streets of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. According to reports, the elementary-aged school children burned a coffin and American, Israeli and Danish flags. Jamaate-Islami, Pakistan's largest Muslim group, organized the rally.
As they search for an answer to the violence, many pundits believe Pakistani religious leaders have taken advantage of the cartoon outrage to create opposition to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Crowds chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Musharraf,” a connection strengthened by Bush's recent meetings with the Pakistani leader.
The latest display of anti-U.S. sentiment that continues to fester in the region was a suicide bombing March 2 near the U.S. Consulate in Karachi. An American diplomat and four others died in the blast.
“We need to get a hold of those leaders behind the scene who incite people for political ends,” Musharraf told ABC News. “These are the people who are inciting them for political ends. Their interest is not so much in the blasphemy but in creating some kind of destabilization against me, against the government. That is their interest. And the moment we get hold of the people behind the scene, it will die down.”
Scott Libin, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a research center for journalists, agreed. While he acknowledged the prominence free speech has in the conflict, pre-existing tensions led to the violence, he said.
“I don't think this is a free-speech issue,” Libin said. “Free speech and sensitivity to cultural concerns are not mutually exclusive. My interpretation is that anything can trigger trouble between these groups.”
Muslim officials in Pakistan continue to call for an official apology from Denmark. Editors at the Danish paper that first ran the cartoon series have published statements defending the cartoons' publication but saying they regret the result. Muslim law considers blasphemous any representation of Muhammad.
Pakistan also has blasphemy laws that include a potential death sentence for anyone who defiles the Koran or insults Muhammad. To that end, the Pakistani high court ruled March 3 to block Internet sites that display the cartoons, one of which shows Muhammad with a turban made into a bomb. Another of the 12 cartoons has the prophet blindly leading two Muslim women.
An Islamic Republic, Pakistan has more than 150 million people. Christians, who have been targeted in the protests, account for less than 3 percent of the total population.