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Bangladeshi police fire rubber bullets towards demonstrators during clashes with Islamists in Dhaka on May 5, 2013. — Photo by AFP
Bangladeshi police fire rubber bullets towards demonstrators during clashes with Islamists in Dhaka on May 5, 2013. — Photo by AFP

DHAKA: Bangladeshi police broke up a protest by tens of thousands of religious hardliners and shut down an Islamist television station Monday after 32 people died in some of the fiercest street violence for decades.

Hundreds more people were reported injured in running battles as riot police broke up the rally near a key commercial district in a pre-dawn raid.

Dozens of demonstrators were also arrested, while the leader of the protests was put on a plane to the second city Chittagong.

Hundreds of bankers, insurance officials and stock market traders had to sleep in their offices as the sound of gunfire echoed around the Motijheel Commercial Area through much of the night.

Shops and vehicles were set alight while the roads were littered with rocks that protestors had thrown at police, witnesses said.

Police said they used sound grenades, water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse at least 70,000 Islamists who were camped at Motijheel as part of a push for a new blasphemy law.

“We were forced to act after they unlawfully continued their gathering at Motijheel. They attacked us with bricks, stones, rods and bamboo sticks,” Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP.

The protesters dispersed early Monday, he added.

Mozammel Haq, a police inspector at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told AFP that 11 bodies were brought to the clinic, including a policeman who had been hacked in the head with machetes.

A total of 21 other people were killed in the protests, according to an AFP toll compiled through police and medical officials.

This included eight people killed in the Kanchpur district on the southeastern outskirts of Dhaka, said the sources.

At least two people were known to have been killed in the southern coastal district of Bagerhat where police exchanged gunfire with several thousand Islamists, police spokesman Shah Alam told AFP.

A pro-Islamist television channel which broadcast live footage of the raid on Motijheel was meanwhile forced off the air in a dawn raid.

Diganta Television’s chief reporter M. Kamruzzaman said around 25 plain-clothed policemen and an official from the broadcast commission had entered their studios without warning.

The violence erupted Sunday afternoon after police tried to disperse tens of thousands of Islamists who had blocked major highways in Dhaka.

The protests had been instigated by Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi, the leader of Hefajat-e-Islam who is said to be around 90 years old.

Police managed to persuade Shafi on Monday to leave his madrassa in Dhaka, escorting him to the airport from where he was to be flown to Chittagong.

In a sign of their desire to avoid inflaming tensions, police insisted he had not been arrested but was leaving of his own volition.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ruled out a new blasphemy law, insisting she will not cave into the demands of hardliners who have been infuriated by bloggers whom they accuse of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Chanting “One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged”, activists from Hefajat-e-Islam marched along at least six highways on Sunday, effectively cutting Dhaka off from the rest of the country.

Police said the number of protesters reached around 200,000 people at one point although the numbers had dwindled by the early hours.

Social media networks were inundated with photos of bloodied Islamists lying on the streets after the crackdown.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which had given its backing to Hefajat’s Dhaka blockade, on Monday accused the government of “killing hundreds of people and concealing the bodies” but gave no proof.

Fearing further violence, Dhaka police Monday banned all protests as well as the carrying of firearms until midnight.

Bangladesh, an officially secular country with a 90 percent Muslim population, has seen a surge in violence between Islamists and government forces since the start of the year, when a court began handing down war crimes verdicts related to the 1971 independence conflict.

Three leading Islamists have so far been convicted for their role in mass killings during the conflict, which saw what was then East Pakistan break from the regime in Islamabad.

The overall death toll in violence between religious hardliners and the police since January now stands at around 150.

Comments (31) Closed

Saeed May 07, 2013 01:14am
But the country is secular ,And any law should be pass by democratic way. If the people want blasphemy law than they should elect Jamat Islami . Other wise they wait for there turn
Milind May 07, 2013 05:20am
Get a life!!! More than blasphemy you should be worried about hypocrisy (of your religious scholars), terrorism, corruption, suicide bombers - the list is too long. Salaluddin is right.. The rogues will later misuse this blasphemy law against minority sects/minorities to browbeat them into submission
Bakka May 06, 2013 10:46pm
I must implore my Bangladesh to refrain from introducing the blasphemy law.
mark May 07, 2013 03:36am
If Islamist try for a peaceful rally everybody jumps on them to kill while if same rally is against any communist dictator then whole world support even if is voilant
Rizwan Haider May 06, 2013 11:13pm
Unlike Bangladesh, Pakistan has a stringent blasphemy law. If somebody thinks that Salman Taseer committed blasphemy, then a case should have been registered against him under this law. But to kill somebody without giving him a fair trial is unlawful. And you call the murderer a hero?
Akhlesh May 06, 2013 08:19pm
No blasphemy law should exist in a democracy.
Shiraz May 06, 2013 05:35pm
For your information, Salman Taseer did not blaspheme and he wasn't convicted either in blaspheming. You are therefore taking the law in your own hand and lauding the act of Mumtaz Qadri, a murderer. It also highlights the fact how blasphemy law has been misinterpreted by a guy like you and how easily misused to settle down a vendetta. I think your eyes are closed when you say since then not many seculars are to be seen. If anything it has increased our resolve.
AHZ May 06, 2013 05:23pm
You are a lost cause mr Gazoo with a zilch idea what religion is all about.
raja hindustani May 06, 2013 08:09pm
u hate word- "secular" in your country but still you want every non-muslim country become secular state so that your religious freedom shouldn't be compromise in those countries. Strange.....isn't it.??
Xulf May 06, 2013 07:36pm
This is no Islamic Law!! It was created by the dictator Zia ul Haq with the connivance of Mullah to terrorize minorities and any body that they did not like. Bangladesh should be wise to kill this topic here now otherwise this is sure recipe for disaster as we in Pakistan are facing this black mail every day
Ahmer May 06, 2013 06:48pm
There is no excuse to slaughter your own people for making a very reasonable demand.
Rizwan May 06, 2013 06:12pm
I agree with Zimbo's view that BD is now following Pakistan towards self destruction. The whole region need to watch and be careful from this new trend and menace.
freedom May 06, 2013 06:27pm
Why is it OK for Muslims to spread their word and insult other religions, but not OK for others to spread their religion ?
freedom May 06, 2013 06:29pm
Why is it OK for Muslims to spread their word and insult other religions, but not OK for others to spread their religion ?
Shucks May 06, 2013 06:29pm
Wow - You are calling for death of a person for uttering something which you dont like and you are calling Salaluddin a violent person ?
Q&A May 06, 2013 06:32pm
International Think Tanks are testing Muslim resolve. They are succeeding in destroying the image of Islam in Pakistan and some other countries but the Muslims of Bangladesh are taking a stand. The war against Islam is internationally funded and instigated in many guises and tricks.
Salaluddin May 06, 2013 08:58am
Those fellow want others to be killed in the name of blasphemy, it is better they got killed. No sympathy for these religious rogues.
Sam May 06, 2013 04:40pm
What is legitimate or not in any religion's law is irrelevant because Bangladesh is a Constitutional republic with a Constitution based on the sovereignty of the people who elect representatives to enact laws thereunder. Keep that Saudi-Pakistani Sharia out of Bangladesh. Radical militancy has to be met with firmness and without an iota of mercy because these people understand no other language.
Edmond May 06, 2013 07:39am
Another country heading down the drains.
Fappy May 06, 2013 11:42am
Another Muslim country! But at least Bangladesh government showing some backbone, it's going to be rule of law.
pankajdehlavi May 06, 2013 04:02pm
Bangladeshi Seculars are not cowards like that of Pakistan............ They are kicking fundamentalists day and night..... All 32 killed are fundamentalists only....... Inshallah they will win the war soon after finishing all the fundamentalists.
pankajdehlavi May 06, 2013 04:03pm
Bangladesh is secular country and any religious political party is not allowed to fight election.
Zimbo_Indian May 06, 2013 01:23pm
Good show. Bangladesh is faithfully following Pakistan on the path of destruction. India will now have to watch its eastern flank also to prevent the armies of the pure from spilling over into her own territory after they have destroyed their own motherland.
Kashif Dada May 06, 2013 01:38pm
this will definitely bring Jamat-e-Islami and other religious parties on same page
The Student May 06, 2013 01:44pm
what a demented violent person you are. blasphemy law has always been a legitimate law in islam. the crazy atheists need to be taught that there is no freedom of speech everywhere, and as a demonstration they should be asked to write and publish and essay denying the holocaust. west has its own laws against freedom of speech and islam has its own laws. a law is a law. and bangladesh govt better understand that.
Gazoo Martian May 06, 2013 03:06pm
Blasphemy Law should be brought in and blasphemer should be fully prosecuted and hanged if convicted. Also, the Law should be properly propagated and ensured that no abuse occurs. Bangladeshis are true Muslims and I salute them for that. Secular forces are slowly seeping in Muslim societies and therefore should be dealt with accordingly.
ukhan May 06, 2013 03:31pm
Im sick of hearing that a country is going down the drain because its Muslim, like its the fault of Islam. Maybe if you knew the Christian history a little and the the way it matured with the crusading massacres of infidels, witch burnings and inquisitions, papal corruption etc. its true the west has matured into a more tolerant society but it took a while, (until quite recently too). Islam needs a bit more time to so we can identify who exactly is causing it harm so it is plain for all to see, which is obvious to some of us is not to the majority of others. But i agree with you on the fact that this country needs more backbone to deal with the situation. These issues are because of the misguided sense of them thinking they are doing whats right and the Muslim way (and its not), much like when the entire Europe got up to fight and rid the Holy land of infidels
Shubs May 07, 2013 09:49am
Good for you, Government of Bangladesh!! Maybe it's time a nation with an overwhelming majority of Muslims shows Islamic countries what it takes to uphold the principles of secularism. Give it another decade. Bangladesh will overtake Pakistan and most Islamic states (without oil, of course!) in all spheres of development, if they can keep these religious zealots at bay.
AHA May 07, 2013 10:58am
Bangladesh should avoid the path of self-destruction, whatever the cost, unless it wants to become another Pakistan.
shiva May 07, 2013 04:47pm
Actually its the other way round........islamic forces are seeping into secular societies and taking advantage of their openness and liberal way of life!!!
Singh May 07, 2013 10:20pm
Even though I am against blasphemy law, it is right of ever citizen to demand what he/she thinks is right. It have been much better if it is debated with pro and cons rather start killing. Will south Asian will ever become civilized nations?