- Thousands of Islamist activists are calling for those who insult the religion to face the death penalty
- Rioters set fire to shops and vehicles, blocked roads and fought with police
- Police fired rubber bullets into crowds armed with rocks
- But sources have claimed officer fired hundreds of live rounds into the mob
37 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Bangladesh today in fierce street fighting between police and Islamic hardliners demanding the death penalty for blasphemy.
Rioters chanting ‘God is greatest!’ torched shops and vehicles, blocked roads and fought bloody battles with police in the capital of Dhaka and its suburbs.
At least 70,000 activists ran amok in the capitals financial district overnight, forcing hundreds of workers to sleep in their offices as gunfire rattled through the night.
Dozens of demonstrators were arrested, while the leader of the protests was put on a plane to the country’s second city Chittagong and the deputy chief was detained in the capital.
Police said they used sound grenades, water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse at least 70,000 Islamists who were camped at Dhaka’s Motijheel Commercial Area as part of a push for a blasphemy law.
Activists from the fundamentalist Hefajat-e-Islam group had marched along at least six roads, blocking transport between Dhaka and other cities.
Witnesses have said the group was chanting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (‘God is greatest!’) and ‘One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged.’
Police have said about 200,000 people marched to central Dhaka, where tensions erupted as protesters – armed with rocks – clashed with security officials, who beat them back with batons.
‘We were forced to act after they unlawfully continued their gathering at Motijheel. They attacked us with bricks, stones, rods and bamboo sticks,’ Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman said, adding protesters dispersed early Monday, he added.
Staff at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, confirmed that 11 bodies were brought to the clinic, including a policeman who had been hacked in the head with machetes.
A further 26 were killed in the protests, including eight people killed in the Kanchpur district on the outskirts of Dhaka.
It is believed rioting broke out after police tried to intercept protesters, many of whom had travelled from remote villages and had gathered in front of the country’s largest mosque.
Trouble then spread to central districts of Dhaka, according to reports.
Six are said to have bullet wounds in their heads. Police maintain that only rubber bullets were used, but witnesses and various local media sources claim officers fired hundreds of live rounds.
Violence also flared up at Hathazari, a town just outside Chittagong, where local police chief Liaqot Ali said at least five people were killed after several thousand Islamists clashed with police and border guards.
Police also shut down two pro-Islamist television stations which broadcast footage of the raid on Motijheel, who had their offices raided by civil police on Monday.
The protests had been instigated by Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi, the leader of Hefajat-e-Islam who is said to be around 90 years old.
Police said he was put on a plane to the country’s second city Chittagong and the deputy chief was detained in the capital.
Hefajat-e-Islam is a newly created radical Islamist group that wants greater segregation of men and women, and a stricter Islamic education. It also want the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution.
The government in Bangladesh has rejected the groups’ demands, saying the Muslim-majority nation is governed by secular liberal laws.
Leaders have threatened to launch a campaign to oust the government unless their demands are met.