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Thousands rally in Bangladesh after deadly clashes

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Activists of the Hefazat-e Islam, a hard-line islamist group, walk along a road during a demonstration on the outskirts of Dhaka on Saturday, a day after deadly clashes with police during a protest against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit to Bangladesh. AFP

Thousands rally in Bangladesh after deadly clashes

Thousand of people demonstrated in Bangladesh on March 27, a day after clashes between police and hardline Islamist protesters against a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi left five dead.

The violence, which began on March 26 at the main mosque in the capital Dhaka, rocked several key districts in the Muslim-majority nation of 168 million, leaving scores injured.

A spokesman for the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), which also acts as a reserve paramilitary force for law and order, said it had deployed troops since March 26 night, without disclosing the numbers involved.

Authorities also appeared to have restricted access to Facebook after images and reports of March 26’s violence were shared on the social media site.

But on March 27, thousands turned out to protest against police having opened fire and against Modi’s visit for independence day celebrations, following calls for nationwide demonstrations from Hefazat-e-Islam, the country’s largest hardline Islamist outfit.

Several thousand supporters of Hefazat staged protests at Hathazari, a rural town outside the country’s second largest city which witnessed the worst violence on March 26 when four protesters were shot dead.

Hefazat spokesman Jakaria Noman Foyezi said around 10,000 students of Hathazari Madrasa, a religious college, were on the road blocking a key highway linking the port city with the country’s hill districts.

Ruhul Amin, the government administrator of the town, said Hefazat supporters put up makeshift walls and dug up the road to block traffic, but that there was no violence.

Mohammad Jahangir, a senior Chittagong police officer, said border guards, police and the elite Rapid Action Battalion have been deployed to the town.

In the northern district town of Habiganj, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at some 200 protesters from the main opposition party, police inspector Syedul Mostafa said.

He said: “They became unruly and pelted rocks at us. We fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them. We have arrested 10 people for violence.”

The Manabjamin newspaper said at least 50 people were injured.

Local media also reported clashes at Gazipur, just north of Dhaka.

In the capital itself, hundreds of Islamists gathered at the Baitul Mukarram Masjid, the country’s biggest mosque.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said the protesters, who chanted slogans against Modi, were Hefazat supporters.

Strike call

The disturbances came as Bangladesh marked 50 years of independence, with rights groups calling for an end to growing authoritarianism including forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

“The scenes of violence we witnessed . . . follow a worryingly familiar pattern of behaviour by the Bangladeshi authorities,” rights group Amnesty International said, referring to March 26’s violence.

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