PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Gunfire and rioting erupted Wednesday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan’s third straight day of violent protests over cartoons of Muhammad. Three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy.
The European Union condemned both the cartoons, first printed in a Danish newspaper in September, and what it called “systematic incitement to violence” against European diplomatic missions by some unidentified governments.
At least 19 people have died in demonstrations and violence this month related to the drawings, according to an Associated Press count. Eleven have died in Afghanistan, five in Pakistan and one each in Kenya, Lebanon and Somalia.
Pakistani intelligence officials have said members of outlawed Islamic militant groups have joined the protests, and may be inciting violence to undermine the government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Rioting also broke out Wednesday near the South Waziristan tribal region, where security officials have said foreign fighters linked to al-Qaida are hiding.
A senior police official said they were investigating whether the rioting was planned. He said the main spark for the violence in the northwestern city of Peshawar appeared to be riots Tuesday in Lahore, where two people were killed.
More than 70,000 people flooded the streets of Peshawar, said Saeed Wazir, a senior police officer. The huge 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 also burned a KFC restaurant, three movie theaters and the offices of the main mobile phone company. 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 injured, Khan and witnesses said.
“The European newspapers have abused our religion,” said demonstrator Shaukat Khan, his eyes streaming from tear gas. “We are expressing our anger. Usually protesters are peaceful but some miscreants do bad things and other people join them.”