PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Gunfire and rioting erupted Wednesday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in several Pakistani cities during the country's third consecutive day of violent protests over the Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy.
More than 70,000 people flooded the streets of the northwestern city of Peshawar, said Saeed Wazir, a senior police officer. The massive crowd went on a rampage, torching businesses and fighting police, who struck back with tear gas and batons. A bus terminal operated by South Korea's Sammi Corp. was torched, police said.
Protesters burned a KFC restaurant, three movie theaters and the offices of the main mobile phone company in the country. A Norwegian mobile phone company's offices were also ransacked. Gunfire was heard near the burning KFC, as police tried to clear people from a main street, witnesses said.
An 8-year-old boy died after being struck in the face by a bullet fired by a protester, police officer Shahid Khan said. A 25-year-old man was killed by an electric cable that was snapped by gunfire, said the man's cousin, Jehangir Khan.
At least 45 people were being treated for injuries in Peshawar's two state-run hospitals, Khan and witnesses said.
Paramilitary forces were deployed, and the government announced that schools and colleges would be closed in northwestern Pakistan for one week to protect students from violence. Authorities also announced a ban on rallies in eastern Pakistan for an indefinite period. Most shops, public transport and other businesses were also closed.
Demonstrations around Asia and the Middle East over the cartoons — which first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September and have been reprinted by other Western newspapers — have subsided in recent days, including in Afghanistan, where 11 people died in riots last week.
Many Muslims regard any depiction of the prophet as blasphemous. They reject the newspapers' explanations that the cartoons have news value and represent free speech.
But the protests have gathered momentum in Pakistan this week. Islamic groups and traders' associations have organized shutdowns and street rallies that have descended into violence.
Intelligence officials say members of outlawed Islamic militant groups have joined the protests, and may be inciting violence to undermine the pro-Western government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Hundreds of Afghan refugees joined the protest in Peshawar, the capital of the conservative North West Frontier Province. Many chanted "Death to Denmark!" and "Hang those who drew the insulting cartoons!" Others burned Danish flags and effigies of the Danish prime minister.
Rioting also broke out Wednesday in the northwestern town of Tank, near the South Waziristan tribal region where security officials have said Al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters are hiding. Protesters set fire to 30 shops selling CDs, DVDs, and videos, said Attiq Wazir, a local police official. Suspected Islamic militants had warned music shops to close, witnesses said.
One policeman was injured when a protester opened fire to resist arrest.
In the eastern city of Lahore, fighting flared up for the second straight day. A 30-year-old man was shot dead in a clash with police as about 1,500 students staged a rally outside a university, hospital and police officials said.
On Tuesday, thousands of protesters went on a rampage in Lahore, burning Western businesses including McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants. Two people died and police detained 125 people, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Violent protests also erupted Tuesday in the capital, Islamabad. More than 1,000 students forced their way into a heavily guarded enclave housing foreign embassies. They damaged cars and a bank building, but were quickly expelled from the area with tear gas and water cannons.
Elsewhere in Asia, hundreds of Muslim protesters ripped apart and burned Danish flags Wednesday in a rally at the Danish honorary consulate in Manila, the Philippines.
In Muslim-majority Malaysia, the government ordered Guang Ming, the country's third largest Chinese-language newspaper, to halt publication of its evening edition for two weeks as punishment for printing a photograph in which the cartoons were visible.
Indonesia's importers association also announced a boycott of Danish goods until the Danish government apologizes for the cartoons.
Denmark's government has refused to apologize, saying it has no influence over its independent media. Numerous countries in the Middle East have called for a boycott of Danish goods, costing Danish businesses more than $1 million a day, analysts and companies said last week.