‘Innocence of Muslims’ Protesters Torch Theaters as Riots Escalate in Pakistan

U.S. launches $70,000 ad campaign in Pakistan with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton stressing religious tolerance

Violence linked to an anti-Islamic film continued to spread across the Middle East and North Africa on Friday, bringing about the deadliest day of protests in Pakistan as rioters burned movie theaters and shops.

Getty ImagesRoughly 20 people are dead and upwards of 160 were injured in a day of demonstrations that erupted in major cities across the country, according to a report in the New York Times. The demonstrations were sanctioned by the Pakistani government. 

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Rioters burned three cinemas in the city of Peshawar and set fire to two theaters in the port town of Karachi, according to the Associated Press.

The Pakistani government had declared a national holiday called the “Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad,” although the purpose was to inspire peaceful demonstrations, not street chaos.

One of the causes of this wave of violence and outrage is believed to be "Innocence of Muslims," a shoddily produced film that portrays Muhammad as a false prophet, a homosexual and a pedophile. It has been linked to dozens of deaths throughout the Muslim world, including the killing of the American ambassador in Libya. However, it is still not known if the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Libya resulted from anger over the film or if a strike was planned to correspond with the anniversary of 9/11.

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In an effort to tamp down the protests, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared in a television ad in Pakistan criticizing "Innocence of Muslims" and emphasizing America's belief in religious tolerance. 

“Let me state very clearly that the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," Secretary Clinton says in the advertisement. "We absolutely reject its contents. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”

The U.S. is spending $70,000 on the campaign, which will air on seven Pakistani stations.