32 killed as Dhaka cops clash with 'pro-blasphemy law' protesters

May 07, 2013, 05:40 IST | Agencies

70,000 demonstrators were demanding death penalty for blasphemy and for a group of 'atheist bloggers'

Bangladeshi police broke up a protest by tens of thousands of religious hardliners and shut down an Islamist television station yesterday after 32 people were killed in running battles on the streets of Dhaka.

In some of the fiercest violence to rock the capital since independence four decades ago, hundreds more people were reported to have been injured as riot police broke up the rally near a key commercial district in a pre-dawn raid.

Driven out: Hefajat-e-Islam movement leader Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi organised the mass protests and was driven out of Dhaka under police escort yesterday before being put on a plane to Chittagong. Pic/AFP

Dozens of demonstrators were also arrested while the leader of the protests was put on a plane to Chittagong. The protesters are calling for the death penalty for blasphemy, and for a number of ‘atheist bloggers’ who published posts, demanding tougher action against war criminals to be hung. Four bloggers have been arrested for offending ‘religious sentiments.’

Hundreds of bankers, insurance officials and stock traders had to sleep in their offices as the sound of gunfire echoed around the Motijheel Commercial Area through much of the night.

Shops were torched and thousands of rocks littered the ground, said witnesses. Police said they used sound grenades, water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse at least 70,000 Islamists who were camped at Motijheel as part of a push for a new blasphemy law.

“We were forced to act after they unlawfully continued their gathering at Motijheel. They attacked us with bricks, stones, rods and bamboo sticks,” said Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman.

Mozammel Haq, a police inspector at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said that 11 bodies were brought to the clinic, including a policeman who had been hacked in the head with machetes. Eleven other bodies were taken to three other clinics. Hospital officials said hundreds of people were injured.

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