Pakistani security forces arrested hundreds of protesters on Sunday, using gunfire and tear gas to put down the demonstration against cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Police fired tear gas and guns to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing Muslim protestors who tried to join a small rally in Islamabad, reported the Associated Press. The clash lasted three hours and left the street littered with rocks and tear gas shells.
Protests had been banned after riots last week killed five people in two cities in Pakistan.
In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, police said 15,000 people rallied peacefully. Protesters wore white shrouds splashed with red paint to symbolize their willingness to die defending the honor of their prophet, AP reported.
Among the protesters was Amar Ahmed, 12, who carried a sign reading, "O Allah, give me courage to kill the blasphemer."
The cartoon controversy was sparked by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which originally published the twelve caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad in September that has been reprinted in Europe and elsewhere. Muslims consider any depiction of Allah and their prophets to be blasphemy.
Muslims worldwide were initially outraged at the Danish newspaper and those who reprinted the cartoons, but "protests over the past three weeks have grown into a broader anger against the West in general, and Israel and the United States in particular," according to AP.
On Sunday, in the southern city of Sukkur, Pakistan, hundreds of Muslims burned a church. No worshippers were inside at the time but one person was reportedly hurt afterwards when police fired tear gas.
Local police chief said the riot was not caused by the cartoons but resulted from an accusation that a local Christian had burned pages of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, another sign of the growing sectarian tension in the dominantly Muslim country.