Three dead as Bangladeshis protest for blasphemy law
* Dozens of small bombs explode
* Police say almost 100 injured
DHAKA: Hundreds of thousands of hardline Islamists demanding a new blasphemy law blocked highways and fought running battles with police, leaving three people dead in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Sunday, police said.
Chanting “God is greatest!” and “One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged”, activists from Hefajat-e-Islam marched along at least six highways, blocking transport between Dhaka and other cities and towns.
Police officials told AFP that about 200,000 people had marched to central Dhaka, where fierce clashes erupted between thousands of rock-throwing protesters and security officials. “At least 100,000 protesters” blocked the road at Tongi town, which connects Dhaka with the northern region, local police chief Ismail Hossain told AFP.
Witnesses said rioting broke out after police tried to intercept stick-wielding protesters, most travelling from remote villages, in front of the country’s largest mosque. Trouble then spread to central districts of Dhaka.
“This government does not have faith in Allah. This is an atheist government, we will not allow them to live in Bangladesh. Muslims are brothers, we must protect Islam,” one protester, filmed by AFP, was seen chanting.
Live television footage showed police firing from armoured vehicles at protesters, who in retaliation went on the rampage, torching vehicles and shops, attacking government offices and beating policemen with sticks.
Dozens of small bombs exploded, leaving smoke hanging in the air around the mosque.
“At least three were killed, including one who was shot,” police inspector Mozammel Haq told AFP, adding almost 100 more had been injured.
A senior police officer who declined to be named told AFP between “150,000 and 200,000 demonstrators” marched to Motijheel, Dhaka’s main commercial district, where they rallied until 7pm (1300 GMT).
Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka police, Sheikh Nazmul Alam, said police fired rubber bullets to disperse unruly demonstrators.
The protest was staged as the country was recovering from its worst industrial disaster, which saw at least 620 people killed when a factory building collapsed just outside the capital on April 24.
Hefajat, a newly created radical Islamist group, is demanding the death penalty for all those who defame Islam.
It said it staged the mass protest to push a 13-point list of demands, which also include a ban on men and women mixing freely together and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution. Hefajat leaders have threatened to launch a campaign to oust the government unless their demands are met. afp