CAIRO — Egyptian riot police clashed with protesters angry over an anti-Islam film blocks away from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as the president went on state TV and appealed to Muslims to protect embassies, trying to patch up strained relations with the United States.
Several hundred protesters massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after weekly Muslim Friday prayers and tore up an American flag, waving a black, Islamist flag. When protesters tried to move toward the embassy, several blocks away, they were confronted by lines of police who fired tear gas.
“With our soul, our blood, we will avenge you, our Prophet,” they chanted.
Ahead of the clashes, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi spoke for more than seven minutes on state TV, his most direct public move to contain protests since an angry crowd assaulted the embassy Tuesday night, scaling its walls and tearing down the American flag.
“It is required by our religion to protect our guests and their homes and places of work,” Morsi said. “So I call on all to consider this, consider the law, and not attack embassies, consulates, diplomatic missions or Egyptian property that is private or public.”
He denounced the killing of the American ambassador in Libya, who died in an attack Tuesday night on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi along with three other Americans.
“This is something we reject and Islam rejects. To God, the attack on a person to Allah is bigger an attack on the Kaaba,” he said, referring to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.
The region is bracing itself for more protests after traditional mid-day Friday prayers over the anti-Islam film produced in the United States called “Innocence of Muslims.” The movie ridicules the Prophet Muhammad, portraying him as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.
Morsi’s own Muslim Brotherhood group has called for peaceful protests to denounce the film.
A firebrand cleric with the beard of a Salafi Muslim, known for their ultraconservative views, blasted the film and in his sermon in Cairo’s Tahrir Square said it was upon Muslims to defend Islam and its prophet.
Protesters have been clashing in Cairo with police since the unrest Tuesday night. More than 240 people have been injured in the clashes, including a number of policemen, and 31 people have been arrested.
In Sudan, a prominent sheikh urged people on state radio to protest outside the main mosque in Khartoum. Sheikh Mohammed Jizouly said protesters would then move to the German Embassy in the city center to protest alleged anti-Muslim scrawling on mosques in Berlin and then to the US embassy, just outside the capital, to protest the film.
“America has long been an enemy to Islam and to Sudan,” Jizouly said.
In Israel, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police have boosted the number of officers patrolling east Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s old city to thwart potentially violent protests following Muslim prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. Protesters are expected to march to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
A small, peaceful demonstration was held Friday outside the U.S. Embassy in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
A prominent cleric in Indonesia has urged Muslims there to remain calm despite their anger about the film. But Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a branch of the international network that advocates a worldwide Islamic state, on its website blamed the U.S. government for allowing the film to be produced and released, calling it “an act of barbarism that cannot go unpunished.”
Meanwhile, a Libyan airport official said all flights to and from the eastern city of Benghazi were canceled due to security concerns. The nearest airport is 200 kilometers away. The airport official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Benghazi is where the attack on the U.S. consulate took place Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Esam Mohamed in Tripoli, Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia.