KHARTOUM/TUNIS (Reuters) - Fury about a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad tore across the Middle East after weekly prayers on Friday with protesters attacking U.S. embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at its missions.
At least seven people were killed as local police struggled to repel assaults after weekly Muslim prayers in Tunisia and Sudan, while there was new violence in Egypt and Yemen and across the Muslim world, driven by emotions ranging from piety to anger at Western power to frustrations with local leaders and poverty.
A Taliban attack on a base in Afghanistan that killed two Americans may also have been timed to coincide with protests.
But three days after the amateurish film of obscure origin triggered an attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans on September 11, President Barack Obama led a ceremony to honor the returning dead and vowed to "stand fast" against the violence.
"The United States will never retreat from the world," said Obama, who in seeking re-election must defend his record on protecting U.S. interests, both at embassies and more widely in a region where last year's Arab Spring revolts overthrew pro-Western autocrats to the benefit of once-oppressed Islamists.
For a third day, television pictures of flames licking around embassy compounds and masked youths exchanging rocks for teargas from riot police were the dominant images of Arab attitudes to Washington. Most diplomatic staff were absent, as most of the region marked the weekend.
But bullets flew. In Tunis, at least two people were killed and 29 were wounded, the government said, after police gunfire near the U.S. embassy in the North African city that was the model for last year's pro-democracy revolutions.
Counting on Washington for economic aid, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned what he called "an attack on the embassy of a friendly nation".
Three died, too, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, state radio said, while there were also deaths in Cairo and in Lebanon.
As U.S. military drones faced Islamist anti-aircraft fire over Benghazi, about 50 marines landed in Yemen a day after the U.S. embassy there was stormed. For a second day in the capital Sanaa, police battled hundreds of young men around the mission. Washington also sent Marines to reinforce security at its embassy in Sudan.
Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, condemned a third day of stone-throwing and siege around the U.S. embassy in Cairo, a linchpin of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Mursi must tread a line between appealing to an electorate receptive to the appeal of more hardline Islamists and maintaining ties with Washington, which long funded the ousted military dictatorship.