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The US has withdrawn non-essential staff from its embassies in Sudan and Tunisia, the Associated Press has reported.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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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