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Pakistan plays down bounty offer

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Supporters of Pakistani religious group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat shout anti-US slogans at a funeral (AP)

Supporters of Pakistani religious group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat shout anti-US slogans at a funeral (AP)

Supporters of Pakistani religious group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat shout anti-US slogans at a funeral (AP)

Pakistan has tried to distance itself from the offer by one of its cabinet ministers to pay anyone who kills the maker of the anti-Islam film.

The 100,000 US dollar offer by Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has drawn criticism in Pakistan even though anger against the film runs high in the predominantly Muslim country.

Mr Bilour said he would pay the reward out of his own pocket. He also appealed to al Qaida and Taliban militants to contribute to "a noble cause" of eliminating the filmmaker.

The film, made in the United States and entitled "Innocence of Muslims," has enraged many Muslims around the world for its portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed as a fraud, a womaniser and a child molester. At least 51 people, including the US ambassador to Libya, have been killed in violence linked to protests over the film, which also has renewed debate over freedom of expression in the US and in Europe.

The Pakistani foreign office said that the bounty put on the filmmaker's head reflected Mr Bilour's personal view and was not Pakistan's official policy.

The minister belongs to the secular Awami National Party, an ally in the government of president Asif Ali Zardari. The ANP is also the ruling party in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

His comments appealing to al Qaida and the Taliban also struck a nerve within his own party, which is considered anti-Taliban and has lost several leaders in the fight against the insurgency.

His colleague in parliament Bushra Gohar demanded the party force Mr Bilour to explain himself. A party spokesman said the statement was Mr Bilour's personal view, and that the party had sought an explanation from him. "We are a secular party," he said. "We consider al Qaida and Taliban as our enemy."

On Friday Pakistan observed a national holiday, which it termed the "Day of Love for the Prophet," and called on people to go out on the streets to protest against the anti-Islam film peacefully. But the protests turned violent, and at least 21 people were killed. Rioters set fire to government and public property including a church and several cinemas. A number of Pakistani militant groups that are officially banned took part in the demonstrations.

Analysts and columnists have criticised the Pakistani government's decision to call a national holiday, saying it was appeasing radical Islamists. Others have said by calling a national holiday the government managed to keep thousands of potential demonstrators outside of the capital since all businesses were closed.

PA


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