Death toll hits 28 as Islamists stage blasphemy law rallies
Most violent Dhaka rally in years sees police fire on rioters
At least 28 have been killed following a second day of clashes between police and tens of thousands of Islamists calling for stricter blasphemy laws.
In the worst violence in the Bangladeshi capital in decades, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a mass rally in the city’s commercial district.
“We had to open fire for self defense,” said Dhaka police official Masasdur Rahman.
Armed with bricks and sticks, hundreds of protesters reportedly attacked police amid rumors that two of their supporters were shot dead by security forces. Protesters smashed and set ablaze dozens of vehicles and roadside shops as well as the headquarters of the ruling Awami League.
Hospitals reported a steadily rising death toll that reached 28 by midday on Monday as many more were reported injured.
Violence started on Sunday as tens of thousands of supporters of the hardline Hifazat-e-islam party blocked off roads in a rally to demand a series of strict Islamic measures including a new blasphemy law.
“Dhaka’s streets have turned red with the blood of devoted Muslims. But we are not afraid of torture by the fascist government and nothing can sway us from our demands,” said Mufti Faizullah, a joint secretary of the group.
Early on Sunday, hundreds of Hifazat activists blocked six key roads into the city, bringing the streets to a standstill.
Having praised Hifazat for protesting peacefully on Saturday, Home Minister MK Alamgir accused opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami of orchestrating the violence.
On April 6, Hifazat staged a huge rally in the capital to press home their demands, giving the government a one-month deadline to meet them.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has rejected their demands.
Last month, police arrested four bloggers for allegedly denigrating Islam and Muhammad prompting calls from hardline Islamists for stricter blasphemy laws.
The main opposition Bangladesh National Party has endorsed Hifazat’s demands putting further pressure on the ruling Awami League.
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