Canadian and U.S. embassies across the Middle East took precautions against continued violent protests over the weekend, while Libya said it has rounded up some 50 people in connection with the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Canada closed three of its embassies for the day on Sunday — in Egypt, Libya and Sudan, where anti-U.S. protests have turned violent — citing continued security concerns.
CBC’s Sasa Petricic reported later that the embassies in Libya and Egypt were due to reopen on Monday following days of security fears, but that the embassy in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, would remain closed.
Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird had said the missions were to be closed in order to ensure the safety of diplomatic staff.
Protests also broke out across Pakistan, including a violent confrontation that left two dead in Karachi. Police in the southern city used water cannons and tear gas to repel hundreds of demonstrators after they broke through a barricade near the U.S. consulate. One demonstrator was killed. All Americans who work at the consulate were safe, a U.S. Embassy official said.
The U.S. State Department ordered the departure of all family members and non-essential personnel on Saturday from posts in Sudan and Tunisia, blaming the security situation in the capitals of Tunis and Khartoum.
Afghans burn U.S. and Israeli flags in Kabul on Sunday. (Ahmad Jamshid/Associated Press)
The Canadian mission in Tunis is normally closed on Sunday.
The moves follow a wave of protests and violence, over an anti-Islam film, that has swept across the Middle East and Muslim countries and which earlier claimed the lives the American ambassador to Libya and three consular staff when an angry mob stormed the consulate in Benghazi.
Libya’s president said on Sunday about 50 people have been arrested in connection with the attack, and that some of the suspects are from outside the country.
The evidence “leaves us with no doubt” the attack was pre-planned said President Mohamed Magariaf during an appearance on the CBS program Face the Nation.
“It was planned, definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” he said.
Suspicions have lingered that the attack may have been pre-planned and perhaps organized by extremist elements including al-Qaeda.
On the same program, however, UN Ambassador Susan Rice said the U.S. has no evidence proving that the attacks in Benghazi were premeditated.
The attack appears to have begun as a spontaneous protest which was later joined by extremists armed with heavy weapons, said Rice. It then, “spun from there into something much, much more violent.”
Rice added the U.S. will want to draw its own conclusions from the investigation.
Al-Qaeda appears to be attempting to capitalize on the wave of anti-U.S. sentiment.
“What has happened is a great event, and these efforts should come together in one goal, which is to expel the embassies of America from the lands of the Muslims,” the group said in a statement released Sunday, according to The Associated Press.
The Pentagon dispatched elite Marine rapid response teams to Libya and Yemen on Friday, but a team deployed to Khartoum was turned back when the Sudanese government objected.
There were more anti-U.S. protests Sunday over the 14-minute film, which was made in California.
Several hundred university students in Afghanistan gathered to protest, burn an American flag and to chant “Death to America.”
The obscure, amateurish movie made in the U.S. is called Innocence of Muslims and shows the Prophet Muhammad in buffoonish, offensive behaviour.
Actors who appeared in the film said they were misled about it, and that some dialogue was crudely dubbed during post-production.
The Canadian Embassy in Cairo also closed on Thursday because of the angry protests at the nearby American embassy.
The normal Egyptian weekend is Friday-Saturday so the Cairo embassy has been closed since.
CBC’s Derek Stoffel visited the Canadian Embassy in Cairo on Sunday, where a note on the door informs visitors that it’s closed. About a dozen people were outside, looking to get visas and travel documents.
“I’m surprised the embassy is closed. Now I’m not sure when I can get my papers renewed,” said one man who wants his work permit renewed.
The Harper government shuttered its embassy in Tehran and severed diplomatic ties with Iran earlier this month, in part because it said it was concerned about the safety of Canadian diplomats.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press