ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani government on Monday distanced itself from an offer by one of its Cabinet ministers to pay $100,000 to anyone who kills the maker of an anti-Islam film that has sparked violent protests across the Muslim world.
The film, "Innocence of Muslims," has enraged many Muslims for its portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. At least 51 people, including the U.S. 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 U.S. and in Europe.
Adding to the anger in the Muslim world was a decision by a French satirical magazine to publish lewd pictures of the prophet last week, prompting French authorities to order the temporary closure of around 20 overseas missions out of fear they'd be targeted by demonstrators.
Some of the most intense and sustained protests have come in Pakistan, where the role of Islam in society is sacrosanct and anti-American sentiment runs high. But even in that atmosphere, the bounty offered by Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has drawn criticism.
Bilour said Saturday that he would pay $100,000 out of his own pocket to anyone who kills the man behind the inflammatory film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The filmmaker was forced into hiding after the 14-minute movie trailer rose to prominence.
Bilour also appealed to al-Qaida and Taliban militants to help eliminate the filmmaker.
Pakistan's Foreign Office said in a statement Monday that the bounty on the filmmaker's head reflected Bilour's personal view and was not official government policy.
The minister belongs to the secular Awami National Party, an ally in the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. His comments struck a nerve within his own party, which is considered anti-Taliban and has lost several leaders in the fight against the insurgency.
A party spokesman, Haji Adeel, said the statement was 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."
Pakistan's government declared last Friday a national holiday — "Day of Love for the Prophet" — and called on people to take to the streets to protest the film peacefully. But the demonstrations turned violent, and at least 21 people were killed.
In Iran, the culture minister said his country will boycott the 2013 Oscars and not field a candidate for the foreign film category in protest against the video.
Mohammed Hosseini said Tehran would not submit an entry for next year's awards due to the "intolerable insult to the Prophet of Islam," the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
The committee has already picked "Ye Habbeh Ghand," or "A Cube of Sugar" — a film about a family wedding turning into a funeral when the groom's relative dies — as Iran's entry as best foreign film. But the government must endorse the selection for it to become official.
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi in February won the Oscar for best foreign film for his movie, "A Separation" — the first such prize for Iran.
Nearly two weeks after demonstrations began with protesters scaling the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, the film continued to draw people out into the streets in protest.
In Sri Lanka, about 5,000 protesters marched through the nation's capital demanding the U.S. ban the film and punish its creators. The demonstrators blocked traffic as they marched on a main road in Colombo, carrying signs and banners that read "Punishment for those involved" and "Our hearts are wounded and chests full of anger."
Protest organizer Kamil Hussain urged the U.S. to ban "Innocence of Muslims" and remove it from YouTube, saying "insulting a religious leader is not freedom of speech."
A small protest also took place in northern Nigeria, where hundreds of Muslims marched peacefully through the streets of the city of Kaduna. Demonstrators scrawled graffiti on walls reading: "Death to the Americans, Death to the Israelites."
Demonstrations in Nigeria, a nation largely split between a Christian south and a Muslim north, have been peaceful, though one protest was broken up by soldiers firing into the air.
In Lebanon, a military prosecutor indicted 45 people related to attacks on policemen and a KFC restaurant during protests against the film, judicial authorities said.
On Sept. 14, security forces opened fire in the northern city of Tripoli, killing one person and wounding 25 after a crowd attacked the KFC and a Hardee's restaurant.
Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged the 45 on accusations including attacking policemen, damaging security vehicles and burning a restaurant, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Since one person was killed in the incident, some of the accused could get life in prison, if convicted.
In Sweden, an appeals court acquitted three men accused of plotting to murder a Swedish artist who had depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a dog. Upholding a lower court's ruling, the appeals court in Goteborg said Monday there was no conclusive evidence that the three men of Iraqi and Somali origin had planned to kill Lars Vilks in September last year.
The men were carrying knives when they were arrested after inquiring about Vilks at an art exhibition where he had been expected to appear but did not do so. Vilks lives under police protection after his 2007 drawing led to death threats from militant Islamists.
Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and reporters in Nigeria, Iran, Lebanon and Sri Lanka contributed to this report.