Cairo: Al Qaeda's most active branch in the Middle East has called for more attacks on US embassies to "set the fires blazing," seeking to co-opt outrage over an anti-Muslim film even as the wave of protests that swept 20 countries this week eased.
Senior Muslim religious authorities issued their strongest pleas yet against resorting to violence, trying to defuse Muslim anger over the film a day after new attacks on US and Western embassies that left at least eight protesters dead.
The top cleric in US ally Saudi Arabia denounced the film but said it can't really hurt Islam, a contrast to protesters' frequently heard cries that the movie amounts to a humiliating attack that requires retaliation. He urged Muslims not to be "dragged by anger" into violence. The head of the Sunni Muslim world's pre-eminent religious institution, Egypt's Al-Azhar, backed peaceful protests but said Muslims should counter the movie by reviving Islam's moderate ideas.
In the Egyptian capital Cairo, where the first protests against the movie erupted, police finally succeeded in clearing away protesters who had been clashing with security forces for days near the US Embassy. Police arrested 220 people and a concrete wall was erected across the road leading to the embassy.
No significant protests were reported in the Mideast on Saturday; the only report of violence linked to the film came from Australia, where riot police clashed with about 200 protesters at the US Consulate in Sydney.