Islamists protest in Pakistani cities over cartoon

KARACHI (Reuters) – Islamists held demonstrations in Pakistan’s main cities on Friday to protest at the republication in Danish newspapers of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad that caused outrage across the Islamic world two years ago.

The cartoon — one of 12 that prompted riots in many Muslim countries in 2006 — was republished by a number of Danish papers last month to show solidarity with the cartoonist after three men were arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill him.

A strike was called by various religious and political groups and endorsed by the business community in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital. Shops closed and public transport was sparse, but banks and most offices remained open.

“By observing this strike, the trader community has expressed its deep anger and dislike against those who committed blasphemy against Prophet Mohammad,” said Atiq Mir, chairman of the Alliance of Market Associations Karachi.

Rallies were held in Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Multan and Quetta, where speakers demanded punishment for “blasphemers” and a boycott of Danish products.

“We demand the Danish authorities to punish the blasphemers, or we will take revenge ourselves,” an Islamist leader, Mufti Hidayatullah, told some 400 Islamist students in the city of Multan in Punjab province.

At least 50 people were killed, including five in Pakistan, in the violence that rocked Muslim countries in 2006, as protests over the cartoons, first published in late 2005, turned violent.

Last month, Pakistani authorities ordered Internet service providers to block the popular YouTube Web site after it ran material deemed insulting to Islam.

Authorities justified the order to prevent access in Pakistan, saying it was necessary to avoid unrest in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 160 million people.

The ban was later lifted after YouTube removed the material.

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