Violence grips Bangladesh as Islamists demand stricter blasphemy law

Violence gripped the Bangladesh capital today as thousands of Islamists chanting "Allahu Akbar" and demanding a tougher blasphemy law enforced a road blockade and clashed with police leaving at least one person dead and scores injured.

Witnesses said the Purana Paltan area at the heart of the capital and downtown Dhaka saw the worst violence where activists using brickbats, stones and crude bombs clashed with riot police who retaliated with hundreds of rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.

"One transport worker was declared dead after being caught in the crossfire at Gulistan area (and) several dozens of Hefazat activists and ordinary pedestrians are being treated for injuries," a doctor at the main state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital said.

Police said, several of their men were wounded as the activists of the newly-floated Hefazat-e-Islam attacked them prompting them to retaliate with the help of armoured personnel carriers.

The Islamists marched down at least six highways and took position at the entry points of the city, stopping road transport and cutting off Dhaka's road links with rest of the country while raising slogans of "Allah-u-Akbar!" (God is the greatest!) and "One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged".

Hefazat-e-Islam or "Protectorate of Islam" enforced their "Dhaka siege" programme to mount pressure on the moderate Awami League-led government to implement their 13-point demand including the enactment of a blasphemy law to punish those who insult Islam and the Prophet.

The group earlier planned to lay a peaceful siege allowing vehicle movement inside the city but later decided to stage a rally at Motijheel area when police granted them permission on condition that they would not turn violent.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a press conference on Friday urged the radical group to call off the their planned demonstration saying laws already existed to punish blasphemers and being a pious Muslim herself she would not allow Islam or the Prophet to be insulted by anyone.

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