Pakistani Muslim protesters burn a US flag du
Pakistani Muslim protesters burn a US flag duAFP photo

Deadly clashes flared in Pakistan Friday as thousands took to the streets to denounce a US-made and French cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

The government declared Friday a national holiday but despite its call for peaceful protests, at least one person was killed and there were skirmishes in several cities on a second consecutive day of isolated violence.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Peshawar, the second city of Lahore and the central city of Multan, where they burned US flags and set tires on fire. In Lahore, police used tear gas to disperse the crowds, AFP reporters said.

There were also violent demonstrations in the capital Islamabad and in Rawalpindi.

Across the Islamic world, Western missions went on high alert, fearing further escalation of a 10-day violent backlash over the low-budget film "Innocence of Muslims" that has spread to 20 countries and left more than 30 people dead.

France, where a magazine this week published a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed, has shut embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools in 20 Muslim countries, fearing that the backlash will spread from US targets.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar, a mob set fire to and ransacked two cinemas, a driver for a TV station was shot dead and 20 other people were wounded by bullets, tear gas and stones, said the head of the Lady Reading Hospital.

And in Islamabad, police baton-charged protesters to keep them back, but the mob surged past the first of three barricades erected on the main road leading to the heavily guarded diplomatic enclave, an AFP reporter said.

There were a few skirmishes as officers fired tear gas and members of the crowd threw stones, shouting "Americans are dogs" and "Friends of America are traitors", setting fire to an effigy of a nameless American.

One photographer was bleeding from a head wound, said an AFP reporter, as helicopters circled overhead and the crowd swelled to around 5,000 after the main weekly prayers, at which clerics called for peaceful rallies.

Among the crowd were flag bearers for Sipah-e-Sabah, a banned terrorist group that is violently anti-Shiite Muslim.

In Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan's powerful military, scores of demonstrators pelted cars and police with stones, and burnt down a booth at a toll plaza, police official Mohammad Munir said.

An AFP reporter said police fired tear gas and live rounds into the air in a bid to disperse stone throwers and protesters at the entry point to Islamabad, which was blocked off by shipping containers.

The mob set fire to a police checkpost, where smoke billowed out into the sky, and carried placards saying "Down with America" and "Death to Blasphemers".

"Participating in the procession is submitting to the will of Allah almighty, that's why I am participating. I would prefer to die to safeguard the honor of my beloved Prophet," 16-year-old protester Sami Ullah told AFP.

The government declared Friday a "day of love for the prophet" but for most of the morning and early afternoon shut down mobile telephone networks in an apparent bid to prevent Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists from exploiting the protests to carry out bomb attacks.

"It is our collective responsibility to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to life or property," said Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf as shops, markets and petrol stations shut en masse in an unprecedented closure.

Washington has warned citizens not to travel to Pakistan and spent $70,000 to air TV ads in Pakistan disassociating the US government from the film.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, dozens torched an American flag outside the US consulate in Medan. In the city of Surabaya, protesters chanted "crush America, crush France" outside the French consulate.

Demonstrators also scuffled with several hundred police in riot gear outside a McDonald's restaurant in Surabaya over the crudely made film, believed to have been made by extremist Christians in the United States.

In Malaysia, about 3,000 Muslims marched on the US embassy, burning an American flag topped with the Jewish Star of David in an otherwise peaceful protest.

In the Arab world, authorities were also braced for demonstrations, with an Islamist militia in Libya's second city Benghazi calling for protests and demonstrations planned in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.

US interests have born the brunt of protests against the film, which depicts Mohammed as a thuggish sexual deviant. This week, French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo also printed cartoons caricaturing the founder of Islam.

The French interior ministry says it will deny all requests to protest against the film after a demonstration near the US embassy in Paris turned violent, but news of the cartoons has appeared slow to filter into Islamic countries.

The magazine's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, mocked those angered by the cartoons as "ridiculous clowns" and accused the French government of pandering to them by criticizing the magazine for being provocative.

The United States is still investigating a deadly attack on one its consulate in Benghazi on September 11 that left four Americans dead, including the ambassador.

The White House says the FBI suspect that Al-Qaeda may have been linked to the attack, but it remains unclear whether it was a pre-planned assault or whether it sprang out of a protest against the film.