Pakistani authorities were yesterday trying to distance themselves from comments by a minister who has offered a $100,000 (£62,000) bounty for anyone who kills the maker of the anti-Islamic film that has triggered outrage across the Muslim world.
A day after last Friday's government-organised "peace protests" that left 21 people dead and more than 200 injured, the country's Railways Minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, invited members of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida to take part in what he said would be a "noble deed". Given the chance, he added, he himself would kill the man behind the controversial film.
The latest country to see protests against the film was Bangladesh, where thousands of activists on Saturday clashed with police who used batons and tear gas to clear an unauthorised demonstration. There were further, smaller protests in the Muslim-majority nation yesterday after a national strike was called – this time to protest about the police treatment doled out to those who had demonstrated on Saturday.
In Pakistan, the government, which had announced that Friday would be a national holiday in order to allow people to hold peaceful protests against the film, Innocence of Muslims, said that the minister's comments did not represent official policy. The minister is a member of the Awami National Party, which is a member of the ruling coalition, but not the Pakistan People's Party of President Asif Ali Zardari.
"This is not government policy. We completely dissociate [ourselves] from this," Shafqat Jalil, a spokesman for Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, told the Agence France-Presse.
On Saturday evening, the minister had told a press conference that he wanted the film-maker, 55-year-old California man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, to be killed. "I announce today that this blasphemer, this sinner who has spoken nonsense about the holy Prophet, anyone who murders him, I will reward him with $100,000," he said.
Mr Nakoula's film has sparked protests around the world and he has not returned to his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos since leaving voluntarily to be interviewed by US federal authorities. His family has since gone into hiding.
Saturday's clash in Bangladesh erupted after protesters from a coalition of 12 Islamist parties tried to hold a rally in Dhaka, the capital, despite a 24-hour ban on gatherings in the area, according to the police. Reports said that hundreds of protesters attacked policemen, set fire to a motorcycle and damaged a police van.
The spokesman for Pakistan's Prime Minister said there would be discussion about the Railways Minister's comments but that for now he remained in his position. "The minister is playing cold, cynical politics. His announcement of a bounty is not too implementable but he will capture the right-wing vote," Raza Rumi, a commentator and a director of the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad, said.