Pakistan: Rioters set McDonald's ablaze

Security guard kills 2 trying to break into bank; thousands protest cartoons.

pakistan McD burning 298 (photo credit: AP)
pakistan McD burning 298
(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of protesters rampaged through two Pakistani cities Tuesday, storming into a diplomatic district, setting fire to Western businesses and a local government building in the country's worst wave of violence against the Prophet Muhammad cartoons, officials said. At least two people were killed and 11 injured. Security forces fired into the air as they struggled to contain the unrest in the eastern city of Lahore, where protesters burned down four three-story buildings housing a hotel, two banks, a KFC restaurant and the office of Norwegian cell phone company, Telenor. Witnesses said rioters also damaged over 200 cars, dozens of shops, and a large portrait of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Among the businesses targeted were a Holiday Inn hotel, and Pizza Hut and McDonald's restaurants, where windows were broken. Two cinemas were torched, and clouds of tear gas and black smoke from burning vehicles drifted through streets in the city center. A security guard shot and killed two protesters trying to force their way into a bank, said Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, adding that paramilitary forces were deployed to restore order. Mohammed Tariq, a doctor at the state-run Mayo Hospital, said three other people were being treated for serious bullet injuries, and eight more had injuries from clashes with police. The protest 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, however, suspected members of outlawed Islamic radical groups may have incited the violence. Raja Mohammed Basharat, law minister for Punjab province of which Lahore is the capital, said the organizers promised in negotiations Monday that the demonstration would be peaceful. He added that no one had been arrested for the violence, but those responsible would be punished. The unrest began Tuesday in the capital Islamabad - about 300 kilometers northwest of Lahore - when a crowd of between 1,000 and 1,500 people, mostly students, marched into a fenced-off diplomatic enclave through the main gate, as about a dozen police looked on. The crowd, wielding sticks, charged about a half kilometer down the road to the British High Commission, or embassy, where the students rallied briefly until police expelled them with tear gas. US and British embassy staffers were confined to their compounds until police restored order. Outside the enclave, the protesters smashed street lights and burned tires while chanting "Death to America" and other slogans. Police rounded up about 50 protesters and put them in pickup trucks. Another protest in Islamabad drew about 4,000 people. Separately, about 50 lawmakers from religious and moderate parties marched from Parliament to the diplomatic enclave, where they stood silently for five minutes before dispersing. Hard-line cleric Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, 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," he said. People in the conservative Muslim nation have been enraged by the publication of the cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. Papers in other countries, mostly in Europe, reprinted them. One of the caricatures depicts Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with an ignited detonator string. There have been a series of mostly peaceful protests across Pakistan against the cartoons, and last week Parliament adopted resolutions condemning the drawing. Lawmakers also called for a nationwide strike on March 3. But Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawmaker with the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, said he would propose that the government call off the March 3 protest strike because of the prospect of further violence. "It's really got out of hand," Ahsan said. "The violence is spiraling out of control."