Bangladeshi police detain an injured Islamist activist during clashes in Dhaka, yesterday.
DHAKA: Bangladesh police fired live rounds yesterday in fierce clashes with Islamists demanding the execution of bloggers they accuse of blasphemy, killing at least four people and injuring about 200.
Two people were shot dead by police in the northwestern town of Palashbari, and two others died elsewhere, police said.
Parts of the capital Dhaka were turned into a battlefield as thousands of protesters attacked police with bricks and sticks in front of the national mosque. Officers there retaliated with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The country’s 12 Islamic parties called the protests after yesterday’s prayers in nearly half a million mosques nationwide, demanding the execution of bloggers whom they say blasphemed Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
Tensions have risen in the Muslim-majority nation over allegedly anti-Islamic blog posts by Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death last week near his home in Dhaka.
In recent weeks Haider and fellow bloggers had launched huge protests demanding a ban on the largest Islamic party Jamaat e Islami, and the execution of its leaders for alleged war crimes in the 1971 independence conflict with Pakistan.
Since Haider’s death, Bangladeshi social media has been flooded with his alleged blog posts and with those by other bloggers mocking Islam, triggering protests.
At Palashbari at least 4,000 Islamists attacked police with home-made bombs and sticks, prompting officers to respond with live fire, district police chief Nahidul Islam said.
A dozen people were injured including five policemen, Islam added. In the northeastern city of Sylhet a young man died as police shot rubber bullets and tear gas after protesters went on a rampage, attacking and torching vehicles, Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Nibas Chandra Majhi said.
Uzzal Dutta, an emergency doctor at the city Hospital, said 31 people were admitted and most had injuries from rubber bullets.
One person was killed in the western district of Jhenidah.
Police said clashes also broke out in the port city of Chittagong, the northern city of Bogra where 15,000 protesters attacked law-enforcers, and dozens of other cities and towns where police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. About 200 people were injured nationwide, police and doctors said.
In Dhaka violence broke out outside the Baitul Mukarram national mosque, where protesters also attacked around a dozen journalists.
Police tried to thwart the protest by locking the gates of the mosque where tens of thousands of people were performing their weekly Friday prayers, a photographer at the scene said.
Sayeed Khan, an emergency doctor at Dhaka medical college hospital, said that up to 50 people had been admitted, most with injuries from rubber bullets.
“Several cases are very critical,” he said.
The government has warned of tough steps against those who incite social tension, and urged newspapers and blogs not to publish defamatory writings against the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him).
It has cracked down on anti-Islam blogs and also given police protection to some bloggers in the wake of Haider’s murder.
Police have yet to comment on a motive for Haider’s killing. But his brother said Haider was targeted by Jamaat’s student wing for his online activities.
The killing of Haider was the second attack in Dhaka in less than a month against a blogger critical of Islamist groups.