US President Barack Obama urged Americans on Saturday not to be disheartened by images of anti-American violence in the Islamic world, expressing confidence that the ideals of freedom America stands for will ultimately prevail.
“I know the images on our televisions are disturbing,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “But let us never forget that for every angry mob, there are millions who yearn for the freedom, and dignity, and hope that our flag represents.”
The comments came after furious protesters targeted symbols of US influence in cities across the Muslim world, attacking embassies, schools and restaurants in retaliation for a film that mocks Islam.
At least six protesters died in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Sudan on Friday as local police battled to defend American missions from mobs of stone-throwers, and Washington deployed US Marines to protect its embassies in Libya and Yemen.
The protests broke out when Muslims emerged from mosques following weekly prayers to voice their anger at a crude film made in the United States by a right-wing Christian group that ridicules the Prophet Mohammed.
Clashes or demonstrations were reported from as far apart as Mauritania and Indonesia. Troops in Nigeria fired live rounds in the flashpoint city of Jos and Egyptian police fought street battles in downtown Cairo.
In the Sudanese capital Khartoum, guards on the roof of the US embassy fired warning shots as the compound was breached by protesters waving Islamic banners, after earlier ransacking parts of the British and German missions.
Tunisian demonstrators, meanwhile, set fire to several vehicles and an American school during a failed attack on the main embassy compound, and in Lebanon, 300 Islamists set fire to a branch of the US fast food chain KFC.
US ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans died on Tuesday when a mob torched the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Obama assured that his administration was doing everything it could to protect Americans who were serving abroad.
“We are in contact with governments around the globe, to strengthen our cooperation, and underscore that every nation has a responsibility to help us protect our people,” he said. “We have moved forward with an effort to see that justice is done for those we lost, and we will not rest until that work is done.”
Late Friday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the United States was positioning military forces so that it can respond to unrest in as many as 17 or 18 places in the Islamic world.
“We have to be prepared in the event that these demonstrations get out of control,” Panetta told Foreign Policy magazine.
He did not offer any specifics. But the magazine said that the Pentagon was discussing, but had not yet decided, whether to send a third platoon of 50 specially trained Marines to protect the US Embassy in Sudan that had found itself under assault.
If approved, this deployment will follow the roughly 100 Marines that already have landed in Libya and Yemen.
But at the same time, he urged compatriots not to lose faith in the ideals of freedom and opportunity set forth at the time of the country’s founding.
“We are Americans. We know that our spirit cannot be broken, and the foundation of our leadership cannot be shaken,” the president pointed out. “That is the legacy of the four Americans we lost – men who will live on in the hearts of those they loved, and the strength of the country they served.”
Obama said his government will carry forward the work of making the United States stronger, its citizens safer, and the world “a better and more hopeful place.”
Meawhile, presenting a weekly Republican address, Representative Allen West of Florida called on the president to avoid making significant defense spending cuts at this time.
“It is because of these threats that America must continue to fund its military and support its Armed Forces to the fullest extent,” West said. “The lives of all Americans depend on it.”