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Fears of violence grows after 41 killed in Bangladesh blasphemy protest

By Naim-Ul-Karim (Xinhua)

09:26, May 07, 2013

DHAKA, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Anxieties grow across Bangladesh over deadly violence that erupted Sunday afternoon and continued until the evening hours of Monday, leaving at least 41 people dead and hundreds injured.

At dinner tables, family gatherings, business meetings and even tea stalls, Bangladeshis are asking about the raid of early Monday with 10,000 law enforcers sweeping away thousands of Islamists from Dhaka's commercial district Motijheel where they were camped to press home their demand for a new blasphemy law.

"Now we worry every moment because we don't know what will happen next," Mollah, a tea hawker at Dhaka's diplomatic Baridhara area, told Xinhua.

Mollah, who uses single name, said gloomy conditions prevail everywhere.

The fresh wave of violence broke out Sunday outside the Baitul Mukarram national mosque in Dhaka after a homemade bomb exploded when many Islamists, who were heading for a rally in Motijheel, engaged in scuffle with law enforcers after they were intercepted.

Hundreds of thousands of Islamists under the banner of Hefazat- e-Islam, a group of non-political Islamic scholars who draw support from many across Bangladesh, marched towards the Dhaka's commercial district Motijheel after they besieged the capital city to press home their 13-point demands.

Analysts say there is every reason to fear that worse is ahead as ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who Saturday slapped an ultimatum to the government to meet the opposition's demand for restoration of a caretaker government system, Sunday night she asked her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) men to extend out all support to the Islamists on humanitarian grounds.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Bangladesh Awami League ( AL) party Sunday rejected the 48-hour ultimatum of BNP.

"Still there is no ray of hope of a consensus between the ruling and the main opposition parties," said a Dhaka University professor who did not like to be named.

He said, "our politicians including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia are too egoistic and self centered."

Before the recover of wounds from Dhaka building collapse tragedy in which over 650 people were killed, he said, "the country now suffers another fresh blow as dozens of people were killed in violent clashes between Islamists and law enforcers."

Anxiety among people mounted as violence spreads across Bangladesh by Monday evening.

At least 14 people including one police man and two troops of paramilitary Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB) were killed and scores injured Monday morning in deadly clashes between the law enforcers and the Islamists in Narayanganj on the outskirts of capital Dhaka, local Somoy tv reported.

It also reported two deaths and dozens injured in Bagerhat district, some 178 km southwest of capital Dhaka.

Four more deaths have been reported on Monday evening in Bangladesh's southeastern Chittagong seaport city where the Islamists fought pitched battles with the law enforcers.

After the early Monday raid amid a blackout, 11 bodies were brought to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital and seven bodies in some private Dhaka clinics, where three people died of bullet wounds on Sunday.

Government spokesman could not be reached to know how many people were killed and injured in the raid. Television footages showed armored vans driving about and non-stop teargas shells being lobbed and rubber bullets fired in Motijheel which was littered with papers, a few thousand pairs of sandals, wooden and bamboo sticks, and some bags.

Law enforcers also used sound grenades and water cannon to disperse thousands of people. Dozens of the Islamists were also arrested while their leader Ahmad Shafi was put on a plane to Chittagong where he is the rector of a Islamic school.

Senior BNP leader MK Anwar in a press briefing Monday afternoon said hundreds of Hefazat men were killed in the raid and their bodies were hidden in a secret location.

In the evening, Mahbub- ul-Alam Hanif, joint general secretary of AL, ruled out the allegation and said they will take legal action if the BNP leader can't prove any such incident.

Hundreds of shops and many offices were gutted as the violence erupted Sunday. Dozens of vehicles were set to fire in Motijheel and in parts of Dhaka.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police have banned all sorts of public assembly in capital Dhaka from 11 a.m. to midnight local time amidst rising tension following clashes between Hefazat supporters and security forces.

Authorities on early Monday closed down two popular pro- opposition TV channels Diganta and Islamic which are well known TV channels of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key ally in ex- prime minister Khaleda Zia's 18-party opposition alliance.

Hefazat has called the program to gear up its ongoing campaign against the Shahbagh movement demanding capital punishment for war criminals and a ban on the Jamaat, many top leaders of which allegedly committed crimes against humanity during the country's nine-month liberation war in 1971.

Although the bloggers, some of whom reportedly spearheaded Bangladesh's Shahbag Square movement, have already denied the blasphemy allegations brought against them, the group has continued their movement.

Police Monday morning also dismantled Shahbagh movement's rally place where hundreds of youths imbued with the spirit of Bangladesh's liberation war have demanded capital punishment for the war criminals from Feb. 5.

Nearly 100 people, including several policemen and dozens of Jamaat leaders and activists, were killed and hundreds of others injured in the riots erupted since a tribunal awarded death sentence to the Jamaat's Vice President Delwar Hosssain Sayeede for war crimes in 1971 on Feb. 28.

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