KARACHI,(Reuters) – Muslim anger against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad flared anew in Asia on Friday with thousands rallying for a fifth day in Pakistan and police in Bangladesh blocking demonstrators heading for the Danish embassy in Dhaka.
Weeks of global protests over the cartoons have triggered fears of a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam, and have led to calls on all sides for calm.
Adding their voice to the crisis, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac said it was a mistake to publish the cartoons, which were first printed last September in Danish newspapers and then reprinted in many other countries.
In Pakistan, where five people have died in the latest wave of protests, police fired tear gas and detained more than 100 Islamists on Friday.
At least 10 protesters were detained after they blocked the main highway north from the southern city of Karachi and began hurling stones at vehicles.
Protests in Pakistan have been large and violent and many have taken on a distinctly anti-U.S. tone. Demonstrators, in addition to burning Danish flags, have attacked U.S. fast-food outlets and burned U.S. President George W. Bush in effigy.
Clinton, on a private visit to Pakistan, said he saw nothing wrong with Muslims around the world demonstrating in a peaceful way, but he feared a great opportunity to improve understanding had been squandered.
“This is not a time to burn bridges; this is a time to build them,” he said. His Clinton Foundation aims to promote harmony between faiths.
“This is an enormous opportunity, because I can tell you that most people are horrified that this much misunderstanding has occurred.”
Chirac was more blunt. “I am appalled by what happened as a result of the publications of these cartoons,” Chirac told India Today news magazine which published an interview with him on Friday.
“I am, of course, in favour of the freedom of the press, which is a pillar of democracy. But I am equally for respecting everyone’s sensibilities… So I deplore the situation,” said Chirac, who visits India next week.
In Bangladesh’s capital, police stopped thousands of Muslims from trying to besiege the Danish embassy and put up barbed-wire barricades on streets leading to Dhaka’s diplomatic areas.
Undeterred, the protesters, estimated at about 10,000, demonstrated anyway on the city’s streets, burning Danish flags and effigies of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, witnesses said.
Banners and placards also called for boycotts of European goods, banning of the offending newspapers that published the cartoons and punishment for their publishers.
In the predominantly Chinese city of Hong Kong, about 2,000 Muslims shouted slogans and waved posters against the cartoons, one of which showed the Prophet Mohammad wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb.
The march was the first of its kind by Muslims in Hong Kong in years, and many of demonstrators decried weeks of violence over the cartoons, including attacks on Danish and other European diplomatic missions in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia.
“We believe in the Prophet Mohammad and we respect him more than our families or anything,” one protester said. “If he is hurt and there are sacrilegious cartoons, of course we will be upset.”
Another said he would condemn any Muslim who drew cartoons offensive to another religion.
“Tomorrow if Moses or Abraham or any other prophet is insulted you will see me here. There is absolutely no difference,” he said as he marched at the front of the crowd.
Police fired teargas shells and used batons in the Indian city of Hyderabad to beat back hundreds of Muslims who stoned shops and disrupted traffic. The crowd took to the streets soon after Friday prayers.
In Pakistan, more protests were expected after Friday prayers in Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province and a stronghold of Islamist parties. At least three people were killed in protests there this week.
Islamist parties have called for a nationwide strike on March 3, around the time President George W. Bush is expected to visit Pakistan, despite the unrest.