Islamist processionists run for cover as the police fire teargas shells to disperse them at the Purana Paltan intersection in the city Friday. FE photo
At least four people were killed and several hundred others including a number of police and media men injured in sporadic clashes on Friday in Dhaka and some other parts of the country over the alleged blasphemy of Islam and its Prophet by some local bloggers, police and witnesses said.
The deaths were reported from Gaibandha, Sylhet and Jhenidah district towns where stick wielding and stone throwing protesters, allegedly led by the Islamist groups Khelafat Andolan and Jamaat-e-Islami clashed with the police, immediately after the devotees took to streets.
In Gaibandha two people were killed and many were injured in clashes with the police at the Polashbari upazila headquarters. Among others one was killed in Sylhet and the other in Jhenidah.
Scores of people were also injured at these four spots, reporters said quoting the local police. The victim in Jhenidah was a Madrasa teacher and Jamaat claimed all the four killed as its supporters.
The injured journalists include Masudur Rahman, reporter of Gtv; Nurul Islam, cameraman of Independent Television, Abdullah Tuhin, senior reporter of Maasranga Television; Mir Ahmed Miru, photographer of Amar Desh; Arifuzzaman of Ekattar TV, Sayeed Bablu of the daily Sangbad, Aminul Islam Bhuiyan, local teleivision channels said.
Police brought the situation under control at all trouble spots by late afternoon and detained several hundred activists for their violent actions that flared up immediately after the Juma prayer.
"The situation is definitely under control across the country," Inspector General of Police (IGP) Hassan Mahmood Khandker told the FE at 7 pm Friday.
However, regarding the reported deaths, the IGP said he was looking into it.
The clashes erupted as police barred devout Muslims, drawn mostly from Quomi Madrasas or religious education institutions, from advancing towards venues where protests were being held by young bloggers across the country demanding capital punishment to eight leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and its principal ally Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) detained and being tried for their involvement in crimes against humanity during Bangladesh's War of Liberation in 1971.
Several business institutions, banks and offices also came under attacks and properties including vehicles were set ablaze at different spots during the violence.
Police blamed Jamaat-e-Islami activists, operating under the banner of 12-party Islamist group for the countrywide violence on Friday.
In Dhaka clashes sparked at Purana Paltan near the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, when police obstructed the devotees from marching toward the Ganojagaran Manch protest in front of the Public Library near Shahbag, where the youngsters held a 16-day marathon protest until Monday.
Police used batons, teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the Islamist activists who fought pitch battles hurling stones and chanting "Naraye Takbir", "death to infidel bloggers", "Establish Shahriah rule," etc.
The clash spread from Purana Paltan to Matshya Bhaban, turning the entire area including Motijheel, Topkhana Road, the streets in front of the National Press Club, the Foreign Ministry and the High Court into a battle field.
Police swooped on the protesters, mainly activists from different Madrasas, fired rubber bullets and teargas shells. The protesters dispersed immediately into different lanes and back-streets, but regrouped again to run sporadic pitch battles against police for more than an hour.
When Islamist activists were trying to march towards the Public Library Ganajagaran Manch defying police obstruction at the Matshya Bhaban point east of Shahbag, their cohorts tried to march towards the same target from the Kataban Mosque area after the Juma prayer.
Clashes also sparked at the Kataban point as police swooped on the marchers. The activists clashed with the police who foiled all their bids to march towards the Ganajagaran Manch.
The protesters also burned two motorcycles on the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque compound.
Police brought the situation under control by 4 pm at all the spots in Dhaka. Most of the injured media men in Dhaka included reporters and cameramen of a number of local television channels.
Meanwhile Islamist protesters also blocked several highways including the strategic Dhaka-Chittagong Highway at different points until late afternoon. Police cleared the highways later either using force or through persuasion.
Police, Rapid Action Battalion and other law enforcing agencies, being alerted earlier were deployed at vulnerable points in Dhaka and other cities, towns and urban centres in battle gear as the Kelafat Andolan and its 11 other Islamist groups called upon the people to bring out protest marches from 400,000 mosques across the country, against atheist bloggers.
Jamaat-e-Islami supported the Islamist groups immediately after they had announced their protest programmes on Wednesday, against the alleged blasphemy of Prophet Mohammad and the religion of Islam by some bloggers.
Published in a section of newspapers, the blog matters, allegedly written by one Rajib who was slain recently by unidentified killers, drew the wrath of the Islamist groups.
Rajib was one of the organisers of the protest at Shahbag that demanded capital punishment for Jamaat leaders now detained for trial on their crimes against humanity in 1971.
Meanwhile, around 500 bigots brought out a procession from Lalbagh Shahi Mosque, demanding punishment to 'atheist bloggers'.
In Sylhet the protesters attacked the local Central Shaheed Minar, set fire to a branch of the Trust Bank owned by Bangladesh army. At least 50 people were injured in clashes in Sylhet city, police said.
They burned flowers left by mourners on the Amar Ekushey Day at the Shaheed Minar, damaged the boundary wall of the memorial and attacked a blood bank and the adjacent Bangladesh Medical Association building, the police said.
Violence also erupted in Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Bogra Moulvibazar, Pabna and several other places.
In Chittagong 10 people-six journalists and four police personnel-were injured in attacks by Islamist activists during their protest rally. They also hurled stones at the Chittagong Press Club and damaged windowpanes of the club and set ablaze banners, festoons and makeshift sculptures of the Press Club Gano Jagoran Mancha.
Eye-witnesses said a procession of the Islamists led by Jamaat-Shibir activists under the banner of Hefazat-e-Islam attacked the photographers and reporters at Anderkilla in the port city.
Several thousand activists brought out a procession from Chawkbazar and gathered in front of the Anderkilla Shahi Jame Masjid for the protest rally immediately after the Juma prayer.
As the police tried to stop them they pelted stones at them. OC (investigation) of Khulsi police station Prabhash Chandra Dhar, SI of Kotwali police station Kamruzzaman and ASI Mafizur Rahman were injured. On the other hand, constable Jahangir Alam was admitted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital with bullet injuries.
Staff Photographer of Daily Inqilab Md Kutub Uddin and Senior Photographer of the Daily Jugantar Rajesh Chakraborty were critically injured and admitted to the hospital while ATN Bangla cameraman Farid Uddin, ATN News cameraman Amit Das, Maasranga cameraman Alamgir Tipu and Bangla Vision cameraman Palash were given first aid.
A UNB report adds: An on-duty police man who went missing from Shahbag Thursday night died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital of stab injuries early Friday.
The deceased was identified as Badal Miah, 26, son of Abdul Aziz of Fuljhuri village in Mothbaria upazila under Pirojpur district.
Police said he was on duty at the Shahbag police control room. He went missing at about 11 pm.