Violence erupted yesterday during government-sanctioned protests against the film 'Innocence of Muslims', which has triggered large-scale demonstrations across the Muslim world. Two policemen were among the 17 people who died in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, while six more were killed in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Over 200 people were injured, some of them seriously, during protests in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and other cities across the country. Throughout the day yesterday, TV news channels beamed footage of rampaging mobs looting and burning private and public property.
Protesters torched or vandalised five cinema halls in Karachi, including one that was earlier owned by President Asif Ali Zardari's family, three other theatres and the chamber of commerce in Peshawar and countless banks and shops, and looted goods and cash from commercial establishments and ATMs.
The PPP-led government had declared yesterday the 'Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool' (Love the Prophet Day) in an effort to blunt efforts by hardline religious and extremist groups to incite violent protests against the anti-Islam film but observers said it had gravely miscalculated.
"The government probably thought it was taking the initiative away from the religious parties but it instead ended up emboldening them," said Omar R Quraishi, editorial pages editor of The Express Tribune, a newspaper based in Karachi, the city which witnessed more death and destruction than other places.