Nationwide strike in Bangla to protest crackdown on Islamists
Dhaka: A two-day nationwide shutdown called by BNP-led opposition alliance began today in Bangladesh to protest what it called "mass killings" of marauding members of a radical Islamist outfit in police crackdown during its "Dhaka siege" campaign demanding a tougher blasphemy law.
Thousands of policemen in riot gears and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) troops enforced a strict vigil in the capital city Dhaka, where most private cars stayed off the roads and schools were closed.
Witnesses and police said the opposition cadres exploded several crude bombs and vandalised a bus in parts of the city to enforce their strike but no incident of clash was reported in the initial shutdown hours.
In the run-up to the general strike yesterday, suspected Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat members set afire a posh train in Chittagong, while vandalised or torched several vehicles and exploded crude bombs in Dhaka.
The call for the general strike by the 18-party alliance, with fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami being a major partner,came a day after a Dhaka court placed senior Hefazat-e-Islam leader Junaid Babunagari on a nine-day police remand following his arrest for masterminding the violence.
The Hefazat-e-Islam or 'Protectorate of Islam' has unleashed riots on Dhaka streets since Sunday to mount pressure on the secular Awami League-led government to implement its 13-point demand, including the enactment of a blasphemy law to punish those who insult Islam and its Prophet.
The members of Hefazat, comprising mainly teachers and students of several thousand unregistered madrasas, allegedly backed by Jamaat workers carried out the two days of mayhem in the capital city and Chittagong.
The Islamists also chopped off several hundred street side trees to erect barricades on the road as they fought a pitched battle with security agencies.
Police on Monday sent the conservative outfit's elderly leader back to his village home at southeastern Chittagong city under security escorts after the May 5 and 6 violence over their Dhaka siege programme that left 28 people dead.
Riot police and paramilitary troops, however, chased thousands of Hefazat members off the capital using non-lethal sound grenades, rubber bullets and water canons but fresh violence erupted at the outskirts of Dhaka and Chitagong's Hathazari area, the stronghold of Hefazat.
Officials earlier said the death toll in violence over of Hefazat-e-Islam's "Dhaka siege programme" stood at 21 which included deaths of an army intelligence official, two paramilitary soldiers and three policemen but the mainstream newspapers tallied the figure to be as high as 28.