Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN)- Protesters started gathering at the Shahbagh Square on Friday again calling for countrywide demonstrations after suspected Jamaat-e-Islami activists launched massive demonstrations and clashed with police in Dhaka and other parts of the country in the afternoon.
The call came from the ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ after Islamist supporters attacked Sylhet Central Shaheed Minar and vandalised protest platforms and launched arson attacks. Only a day ago, the protesters had called off their non-stop demonstrations at Shahbagh intersection after 17 days in a row.
“The Jamaat-leaning Amar Desh has instigated (Friday’s) attacks. Its (Acting) Editor Mahmudur Rahman must be detained within 24 hours,” said Imran H Sarker, one of the organisers of the movement demanding death sentences for all convicted war criminals and a ban on Jamaat.
Sarker warned of tougher agitation programmes if the government failed to arrest Rahman, a former adviser to BNP chief Khaleda Zia.
He also called for a nationwide demonstration on Friday evening in protest at the Jamaat’s attacks after the Jum’a prayers.
“We’ll stay in the streets [and continue our demonstrations] from now on,” Sarker added.
Thousands of people, mostly youths, had thronged the Shahbagh intersection on Feb 5 after the second war crimes tribunal of Bangladesh sentenced Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla to life in prison for
crimes against humanity during the 1971 War of Liberation.
On Feb 15, the 11th day of the demonstration, blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, one of the Shahbagh protest organisers, was hacked to death near his Pallabi residence in Dhaka.
Rajib used to write blogs under the pen-name ‘Thaba Baba’. He tried to shed light on the violent nature of Jamaat and its student front, Islami Chhatra Shibir.
After his death, some newspapers ran reports terming him an ‘atheist’, ‘apostate’ and alleged that Rajib used to write against Islam.
On Friday, the BNP-leaning Amar Desh’s lead news headline, roughly translated in English, reads, ‘Bloggers committing contempt of religion and court’.
On Thursday, the demonstrators gave the government until Mar 26 to start the process of trying those parties that had committed war crimes during the nation’s Liberation War and ban Jamaat.
Meanwhile, 12 Islamist like-minded parties announced agitation programmes demanding punishments for the bloggers who had ‘disdained religion’ and hatched a ‘conspiracy’ to ban religion-based politics.
Supporters of the parties took out processions in capital Dhaka and elsewhere and launched a spree of violent attacks before clashes with police.
The demonstrators attacked and smashed local protest solidarity stages in Chittagong and Rajshahi. They vandalised and torched the Sylhet Central Shaheed Minar.
Police said the Jamaat activists might have carried out the attacks under the cover of the programme.
The demonstrators of the Ganajagaran Mancha in Dhaka started converging on Shahbagh on Friday afternoon as the news of the attacks spread.
A bdnews24.com correspondent, present at the spot, said over a thousand people thronged Shahbagh in just 15 minutes.
A group of Dhaka University students again blocked vehicular movement in the key-intersection around 5:30pm. Hundreds of demonstrators, led by Imran Sarker, came to the Ganajagaran Mancha around 5:45pm.
Pro-government Bangladesh Chhatra League general secretary Siddiqui Nazmul Alam was also seen with them.
BBN/SSR/AD-23Feb13-10:48 pm (BST)