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Dhaka braced for weekend of violence

Protests and counter-protests planned

Thousands of people in Dhaka’s Shahbagh Square protest against the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Party Thousands of people in Dhaka’s Shahbagh Square protest against the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Party
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • April 5, 2013
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Dhaka was today bracing itself for further political violence between Islamist and progressive groups, with rival protest actions planned for later today and tomorrow.

Two dozen cultural, social and professional organizations have called for a 24-hour nationwide strike beginning today to resist a radical Islamist group’s protest march towards Dhaka tomorrow.

Strike leaders said tomorrow’s march by Hifazat-e-Islam is a conspiracy by the Jamaat-e-Islami Party to thwart an ongoing tribunal prosecuting its top leaders for wartime abuses.

Hifazat claims the march is ‘non-political’ and threatened non-stop reprisal strikes starting on Sunday if today's strike is not called off.

For the past few weeks, Hifazat has been publicizing a number of demands, including punishment for bloggers who allegedly defame Islam and Prophet Muhammad and creation of a law against blasphemy.

“Our organization is non-political, so are our demands. If we are obstructed and our demands not met, the government will be responsible for the violent situation,” Hifazat chief Shah Ahmed Shafi told reporters yesterday.

On the other side, Nasiruddin Yusuf, president of leading cultural organization Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, said yesterday, “Though we don’t believe in strikes, we call upon the people to observe a peaceful shutdown to protest the long march of Hifazat, which is now a part of the Jamaat conspiracy,” 

The opposition, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its key ally Jamaat, said it morally backs the Islamists’ march.

The 18-party opposition alliance has backed the Islamist long march for political reasons, said Nirmol Rozario, secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association. He warned of allowing too much power into the hands of extremists. “People fear that things can become violent anytime. The government needs to be very careful and strategic to ensure peace and security for people,” he said.

“If the government fails to control the situation, reactionary and communal forces will take over the country,” he said. “Religious minorities will be the worst victims, as in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Shahriar Kabir, a journalist and head of the Committee for a Secular Bangladesh, said his group is frustrated that the government has already arrested four bloggers to appease Islamic radicals.

“It is clear that the bloggers are facing Jamaat fury – [the bloggers] were behind a recent protest in Shahbagh Square for a secular Bangladesh, voiced opinions against the war criminals and demanded a ban on Jamaat,” Kabir told ucanews.com.

Several other Islamic groups have threatened to protest if the atheist bloggers are not prosecuted.

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