The Pakistan government has declared Friday a national holiday in honor of the Muslim prophet Mohammed and called for peaceful protests against a U.S.-made film deemed insulting to Islam.
The cabinet decided to make Friday an official “day of expression of love for the prophet” in response to the “Innocence of Muslims” movie, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.
The film, believed to be made by extremist Christians in the United States, has triggered more than a week of furious protests and attacks across the Muslim world, which have killed least 30 people.
The sudden announcement of the holiday came after religious parties called for a day of protest on Friday to denounce the film and lawyers demonstrating in Islamabad denounced the government’s “criminal silence” on the issue.
“We will send a message to the world that Muslims of Pakistan are protesting about this, and we won’t tolerate even a single sentence against the dignity of the holy prophet,” Kaira told a news conference.
“We should make peaceful protest and pray to god to remove the weaknesses of the Muslim people, because of which we are facing this situation.”
The head of a leading Sunni party, the Sunni Tehreek, on Monday urged people across the country to close their businesses and hold rallies against the film.
Sources said traders and transporters associations in the largest city and commercial hub Karachi had backed the call.
Around 500 protesting lawyers broke through a gate to Islamabad’s heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave on Wednesday, chanting anti-U.S. slogans and castigating the Pakistan government for failing to take strong action against the film.
A U.S. flag was laid on the ground and the protesting lawyers walked over it one by one. Later they burnt the flag before the rally ended peacefully.
Pakistan, along with Afghanistan and Bangladesh, blocked video-sharing website YouTube this week after it failed to remove the offensive film.
Wednesday also saw the publication by a French magazine of a series of provocative cartoons showing a nude Prophet Mohammed which are likely to further inflame Muslim anger.
Embassies, consulates, cultural centers and international French schools in around 20 countries will be closed on Friday for fear of being targeted in demonstrations following weekly prayers.