Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for September 22, 2012

Newsline: Pakistan embassy protests rage on as at least 19 are killed

Pakistan’s “Day of Love for the Prophet” turned into a deadly day of gunfire, tear gas and arson. Thousands angered by an anti-Muslim film ignored pleas for peaceful rallies and rampaged in several Pakistani cities Friday in battles with police that killed 19 people and touched off criticism of a government decision to declare a national holiday to proclaim devotion for the Prophet Muhammad. In addition to those killed, nearly 200 others were injured as mobs threw stones and set fire to cars and movie theaters, and battled with police who responded with tear gas and gunfire. In an attempt to tamp down the anger, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad purchased spots on Pakistani TV on Thursday that featured denunciations of the video by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. But their comments, which were subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language, apparently did little to moderate the outrage that filled the country’s streets. Police fired tear gas and live ammunition to push back the tens of thousands of protesters they faced in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and the major cities of Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. They were successful in preventing the protesters from reaching U.S. diplomatic offices in the cities, even though the demonstrators streamed over shipping containers set up on major roads to block their path. The deadliest violence occurred in the southern port city of Karachi, where 14 people were killed, said hospital officials. More than 80 people were injured, said the top government official in the city, Roshan Ali Shaikh. At least three of the dead were policemen, one who died when hundreds of protesters attacked a police station. Five people were killed and 60 wounded in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said police official Bashir Khan. One of the dead was identified as Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani TV station who was killed when police fired at protesters torching a cinema and hit his vehicle, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who also was in the car. The TV channel showed doctors at a hospital trying unsuccessfully to save Amir’s life. At least 45 people, including 28 protesters and 17 policemen were wounded in clashes in Islamabad, where police fought with more than 10,000 demonstrators in front of a five-star hotel near the diplomatic enclave where the U.S. Embassy and other foreign missions are located. A military helicopter buzzed overhead as the sound of tear gas being fired echoed across the city. In northwestern Pakistan, demonstrators burned the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in the city of Mardan, but no one was injured, said senior police officer Salim Khan. The government temporarily blocked cellphone service in 15 major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during the protests, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Blocking cellphones also had the benefit of making it harder for people to organize protests.



Newsline: US missions, Australian embassy in Pakistan remain closed

All US missions across Pakistan as well as the Australian embassy remained closed in fear of public backlash due to the US-made film insulting to Islam. The spokesperson of the US State Department, Victoria Nuland has said that all the US missions in Pakistan would remain closed on because of the national holiday announced by the Govt of Pakistan as a sign of protest against the sacrilegious movie. The consulates remained closed on Thursday as well, she informed, adding that the staff was safe and well protected. The US has already issued a new travel advisory for Pakistan, whereby the US citizens have been advised against travelling to Pakistan because of the fear of attacks from extremists. The diplomatic staff and the US citizens residing in Pakistan have also been cautioned to avoid unnecessary exposure to public places. Meanwhile Australia’s high commission in Islamabad has been temporarily closed due to fears of violent protests. A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said the closure was a “precaution due to heightened unrest in and around the diplomatic enclave.”


Newsline: Ecuador suggests transferring Assange to its embassy in Sweden so he can be questioned

Ecuador proposed transferring Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from its embassy in London where he has taken refuge to that in Sweden where he is a suspect of sex related crimes. However this depends on Britain and there has been no official reaction to the proposal. Foreign minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters that there are several possibilities to resolve the standoff with Britain over Assange, including “that his statement be taken in our embassy in London or that Ecuador get authorization to transfer him, if necessary, to our embassy in Sweden so that the case can proceed there with the protection of Ecuador and meeting the needs of Swedish justice”. Ecuador granted the Wikileaks founder political asylum on Aug. 15, but British authorities have repeatedly warned they will arrest him if he steps foot outside the diplomatic mission. Patiño said he was hopeful a negotiated solution could be found for the case, although added that Ecuador does not discard appealing to international courts if discussions with London do not prosper. Only last week Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa said that Patiño would be attending the UN General Assembly and “expects to meet with Foreign Secretary William Hague and continue the dialogue on the Assange case”. Correa said that in his opinion the whole issue could be solved once Sweden gives guarantees that Assange won’t be handed to the US or that the Swedish prosecution questions the Australian at the embassy in London, “it’s perfectly feasible, and we can then overcome the dispute; why doesn’t the Swedish prosecutor want to do so, who knows”.