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Speakers at perhaps the biggest rally yet in Bangladesh's ongoing mass protests announced a change of strategy on Thursday, decentralising and spreading their focus beyond Shahbagh Square, even as they stressed that there would be no going back on the core demands of the agitation: death for the war criminals of 1971, and a ban on the politics of religion.
The leaders of the movement gave the Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina until March 26 to ban the rabid, faith-focused politics of the Jamaat-e-Islami, when they said they would decide the future course of their movement. For now, the Shahbagh Square assembly would go into a temporary break.
Shahriar Kabir, acclaimed Bangladeshi writer and spokesperson for the Forum for Action against War Criminals, clarified that the decision represented a change of strategy, not a retreat.
"There is no question of moving away from Rajpath. But there will be a temporary break. The movement will now be spread to the grassroots from Shahbagh Square," Kabir said. Speakers at Thursday's rally stressed repeatedly to the gathering of tens of thousands of protesters: "The Shahbagh movement will continue until our demands are met and our goals are achieved."
Dr Imran H Sarkar, an important leader at Shahbagh, said, "This movement has no reason to feel exhausted, to be depressed. We will stop only when the war criminals are hanged. We will not allow any Talibani to take root and grow in Bangladesh."
A student leader underscored that no more than moral support would be welcome from political parties. "We will not allow political banners, even if it belongs to the Awami League, to come and join us. Their moral support we will solicit, though," he said.
A section of student leaders accused the Awami League leadership of failing to take hard decisions against the Jamaat-e-Islami, which they said had been trying to damage the movement by calling it anti-Islam.