Islamabad: Life across Pakistan came to a standstill today due to a holiday declared by the government to protest the anti-Islam film which triggered violent demonstrations in several cities, including the federal capital.
The government has called for observing the day as "Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool" (Love the Prophet Day) and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has asked the people to protest peacefully.
Authorities put in place strict security arrangements across the country after a protest by students and members of hardline groups outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad yesterday turned violent.
The premier was scheduled to address a "Love the Prophet conference" this morning at the Jinnah Convention Centre, located close to the site of yesterday's protest, but the government shifted the venue to the heavily fortified Prime Minister's Secretariat after midnight for security reasons.
Clerics, religious scholars and political leaders will attend the conference.
Authorities suspended cellular phone services in some 15 cities, including Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi, at around midnight for security reasons.
Residents of these cities complained the move had caused them considerable problems.
Sources said the mobile services were suspended on the orders of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the measure would continue till 6 pm to ensure that mobile phones were not used for any terrorist activities.
The authorities had resorted to a similar measure during the recent Eid-ul-Fitr festival.
Educational institutions, banks, government and private offices and markets across the country remained closed.
There was no public or private transport on the roads and CNG and petrol pumps too were shut.
Roads leading to Islamabad's diplomatic enclave and US consulates in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar were blocked with shipping containers.
Additional security forces were deployed in most cities and authorities were on high alert.
In Lahore, an additional 15000 police were patrolling the streets and authorities advised foreigners to stay at home.
In Peshawar, security was tightened for offices of foreign organisations and NGOs.
Extra security was also put in place around mosques and
Shia imambargahs for the weekly Friday prayers. Religious and political leaders appealed for peaceful protests after the prayers.
Official sources said there were intermittent protests in several cities in the morning. However, the number of protestors is expected to swell after the Friday prayers.
Yesterday, close to 100 protestors and policemen were injured, some of them seriously, during a protest by some 5,000 people outside Islamabad's diplomatic enclave.
The protestors clashed repeatedly with riot police, who were unable to disperse the mob despite using batons, teargas and rubber bullets.
The protestors dispersed around nightfall when the Interior Ministry called in army troops to protect the diplomatic enclave.
Members of the students wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami and extremist groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Sipah-e-Sahaba joined the protest.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik blamed the violence during the protest on members of "banned groups".
He said the Punjab government, responsible for security in Rawalpindi, had done nothing to prevent the protestors from marching into Islamabad.
First Published: Friday, September 21, 2012, 10:33