WASHINGTON, DC – Demonstrators angry over an anti-Islam film clashed with police in Australia, but downtown Cairo, scene of the first protests, and most of the Muslim world appeared to be largely calm Saturday evening.
Egyptian security forces earlier Saturday pushed protesters away from the U.S. Embassy toward Tahrir Square, where they were further dispersed.
Hundreds of Egyptian riot police remained in the square as workers cleaned streets and businesses and assessed damage from five days of protests.
The protest in Sydney came as the United States strengthened security at diplomatic stations amid the unrest, which marked its fifth day.
Carrying signs that read: “Obama, Obama, we like Osama” and “Behead All Those Who Insult the Prophet,” hundreds of protesters gathered on the steps of the consulate in Sydney.
The demonstration turned violent after protesters were pushed back from the building.
Authorities used tear gas and police dogs to disperse protesters who threw bottles and shoes — considered a grave insult among Muslims. Six police officers were injured and eight people were arrested, Sydney police said. Seventeen people were treated for the effects of pepper spray used by police.
In his weekly address, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged “images on our televisions are disturbing.”
“But let us never forget that for every angry mob, there are millions who yearn for the freedom and dignity and hope that our flag represents,” Obama said.
Obama reiterated that those who killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi will be brought to justice.
FBI investigators probing the killings put off a visit until conditions in the volatile region are safer. Agents had hoped to arrive in Libya on Saturday, federal law enforcement officials said
From Morocco to Malaysia, thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets in recent days — with sometimes deadly results — over the release of a 14-minute trailer, privately produced in the United States, that mocks the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and ruthless killer.
The protests peaked on Friday after prayers.
Disagreement over how Benghazi attack began
Top Western diplomats warned leaders in countries where the unrest has been most pronounced to ensure the protection of its missions and its people.
“I am following the unfolding events with grave concern and call on national authorities in all countries concerned to swiftly ensure the security of diplomatic missions and protect diplomatic staff,” Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign affairs chief, said in a statement.
U.S. Marines were dispatched to Libya and Yemen to safeguard American diplomatic posts, according to U.S. officials. Marines that were to travel to Sudan returned pending further discussions with the government there, a U.S. official said.
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the United States would take action to protect its diplomatic facilities if the countries in question did not stop the violence and seek justice for the attacks.
“Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts,” she said Friday. “And we will … keep taking steps to protect our personnel around the world.”
Despite the firm condemnation by U.S. government officials, some in the Muslim world — especially those raised in regimes in which the government must authorize any film production — cannot accept that a movie like “Innocence of Muslims” can be produced without being sanctioned by Washington, said Council of Foreign Relations scholar Ed Husain.
“They’re projecting … their experience, their understanding (that) somehow the U.S. government is responsible for the actions of a right-wing fellow,” said Husain, a senior fellow at the New York think thank.
Calm returns to Cairo
The demonstrations, notably, haven’t all been violent, and the protesters represent only a fraction of their respective nations’ populations. A few thousands, for example, clashed with security forces outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, a city of more than 18 million people.
Libyan authorities said they were cooperating with a U.S. investigation into the Benghazi attack.
“Things are moving very, very well,” Muhammad Alkari, spokesman for the prime minister’s office, told CNN.
Egyptian forces regain control of Sinai base
Here’s a breakdown of other events Saturday around the globe:
— In Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, a large number of security forces backed by tanks regained control of a base housing an international peacekeeping force that was breached Friday by Islamist militants, state-run EGYnews reported Saturday.
The militants carrying automatic weapons burned trucks and a watch tower on the base. The armed clashes injured at least four troops and an Islamist Bedouin.
The 1,500-troop mission has supervised the security of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty since 1979.
Egyptian security forces, including the military, have been fighting militants in Sinai since August after 16 border guards were killed in an attack by Islamist militants.
U.S. intelligence warned Embassy in Egypt about anti-Muslim film
— In Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a joint U.S.-British base in Helmand province that left two U.S. troops dead, saying the attack was in response to the film. The attack follows a call by the Taliban on its fighters to take revenge for the film by increasing assaults on NATO troops.
— In Tunisia, authorities warned Saturday the death toll may climb following Friday’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis that left two dead.
“This initial toll might get worse as two of the wounded people are in critical condition,” the state-run TAP news agency reported.
— In Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, the German and British embassies shored up their security after protesters managed to get inside a compound that is shared by both diplomatic missions, according to the foreign ministers of both nations.
What the Mideast protests reveal
Warnings about the online movie
Days before violent protests Tuesday in Egypt, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was warned by the U.S. intelligence community of concerns about the anti-Islam film that sparked the uproar, a U.S. official told CNN on condition of anonymity.
The cable sent to the embassy did not mention a specific threat. It only warned about the existence of the online movie and the fact that it was gaining attention.
U.S. authorities have discounted as false a producer’s claims to news outlets that the filmmaker was an Israeli who made the movie with financing from more than 100 Jewish donors. Israel’s government denies that the film’s maker is Israeli.
The filmmaker, identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was interviewed early Saturday by a federal probation officer. The questioning comes hours after federal officials said they were reviewing his probation in connection with a 2009 bank fraud conviction.
Steve Whitmore, with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, told CNN that Nakoula left the local sheriff’s station after the federal officials finished interviewing him.
“He is gone and he is free,” Whitmore said of Nakoula, who was bundled up in a coat, hat and white scarf when he was escorted from his house to the interview.
Whitmore dismissed reports that Nakoula had been arrested, saying he was never in handcuffs and had left his house willingly to be interviewed.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, meanwhile, said Saturday it had released a video appeal to film protesters.
A message in Arabic tells viewers that “ordinary Americans and the U.S. government should not be blamed for the religious hatred expressed in the film,” the group said in a statement.