US embassy staff evacuated as Muhammad film protests spread

Workers in Khartoum and Tunis advised to leave.

The US has withdrawn non-essential staff from its embassies in Sudan and Tunisia, the Associated Press has reported. The move follows protests in Muslim-majority countries this weekend, galvanised by an anti-Islamic film made in the US. While some of the demonstrations have been peaceful, protestors have reportedly been killed and wounded in clashes with police in Sudan. Earlier this week, the US ambassador to Libya was killed, along with three others, in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Many demonstrators have referenced the film "Innocence of Muslims", made by a Christian group in America, but there are suggestions that some unrest had planned before the release of the film.

The Guardian's Julian Borger reports:

US officials have said they believe outrage over the film may have been used by an extremist Libyan group, Ansar al-Sharia, as cover and a diversion for an assault on the Benghazi consulate that had been long planned for the 11th anniversary of the 11 September attacks. The president of the Libyan assembly, Yousef al-Megariaf, agreed. During a visit to Benghazi, he described the storming of the consulate as "pre-planned to hit at the core of the relationship between Libya and the United States". Small anti-American demonstrations in Damascus and Tehran appeared to have been facilitated by the authorities there.

So far, protests have been reported in Tunisia, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan, Palestine and India, with smaller demonstrations in Western countries such as Australia and Britain. 

In Tunisia, cars outside the US embassy in Tunis were set on fire and protesters scaled its walls.

In Khartoum, Sudan, the German embassy was torched, and its diplomats took refuge in the British embassy next door. The foreign secretary, William Hague, said: "Sudanese police attended the scene, but demonstrators were able to break down a perimeter wall and cause minor damage to the compound. They did not attempt to gain access to the British embassy building."

Protesters also attempted to smash the windows of the US embassy:

In Iran, Israeli flags were burned alongside US ones, and women held up anti-Jewish placards:

There were similar scenes in Kut, Iraq:

In Cairo, Egypt, stones were thrown at riot police during clashes near the US embassy. The Muslim Brotherhood withdrew calls for nationwide protests, saying they would instead participate in a "symbolic demonstration".

In Srinagar, in the Kashmir Valley, demonstrations entered their second day today. The video sharing website YouTube has blocked access to the film in India in the hope of restraining the violence.

In Sanaa, Yemen, the US embassy was targeted and security forces fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse the crowds:

In Turkey, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told protesters that the film should not be used as a pretext for violence, as anti-US slogans were chanted in Beyazit Square in Istanbul:

In Sydney, Australia, there was a small demonstration outside the US Consulate General:

In Palestine, protesters shouted slogans after Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem:

In Britain, an American flag was burned in front of the US embassy in London:

(All photos: Getty Images)

In Khartoum, protesters targeted the German and US embassies. Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

The electoral pool they are fishing in is shallow – perhaps even non-existent. 

The press and Labour’s political opponents are hammering Jeremy Corbyn over his party's pledge/ambition/cruel lie to win an election (delete depending on your preference) to not only abolish tuition fees for new students, but to write off the existing debts of those who have already graduated.

Labour has conceded (or restated, again, depending on your preference) that this is merely an “ambition” – that the party had not pledged to wipe out existing tuition fee debt but merely to scrap fees.

The party’s manifesto and the accompanying costings document only included a commitment to scrap the fees of students already in the system. What the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are claiming as a pledge is the following remark, made by Jeremy Corbyn in his Q&A with NME readers:

“First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether. We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it. Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”

Is this a promise, an aspiration or a target? The answer probably depends on how you feel about Jeremy Corbyn or fees policy in general. (My reading, for what it’s worth, is that the full quote looks much more like an objective than a promise to my eyes but that the alternative explanation is fair enough, too.)

The more interesting question is whether or not there is an electoral prize to be had, whether from the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, for hammering Labour on this topic. On that one the answer is open and shut: there really isn’t one.

Why not? Because the evidence is clear: that pledging to abolish tuition fees largely moves two groups of voters: students who have yet to graduate and actually start paying back the fees, and their parents and grandparents, who are worried about the debt burden.

There is not a large caucus of fee-paying graduates – that is, people who have graduated and are earning enough to start paying back their tuition fees – who are opposed to the system. (We don’t have enough evidence but my expectation is that the parents of people who have already graduated are also less fussed. They can see that their children are not crippled by tuition fee debt, which forms a negligible part of a graduate’s tax and living expenses, as opposed to parents who are expecting a worrying future for their children who have yet to graduate.)

Put simply, there isn’t a large group of people aged 21 or above voting for Corbyn who are that concerned about a debt write-off. Of those that are, they tend to have an ideological stance on the value of a higher education system paid for out of general taxation – a stance that makes it much harder for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to peel those votes off.

The whole thing is a bit of a blind alley for the parties of the centre and right. The Tory difficulty at this election wasn’t that they did badly among 18-21s, though they did do exceptionally badly. With the exception of the wave year of 1983, they have always tended to do badly with this group. Their problem is that they are doing badly with 30-45s, usually the time in life that some younger Labour voters begin to vote Conservative, largely but not exclusively because they have tended to get on the property ladder.

Nowadays of course, that cohort, particularly in the south of England, is not getting on the property ladder and as a result is not turning blue as it ages. And that’s both a bigger worry and a more lucrative electoral target for Labour’s opponents than litigating an NME interview.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.