x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Strike called in protest over 'mass killing' of Islamists

Bangladeshi opposition parties have called a two-day nationwide shutdown from today to protest what they describe as the 'mass killing' of Islamists in a crackdown by security forces.

DHAKA // Bangladeshi opposition parties have called a two-day nationwide shutdown from today to protest what they describe as the "mass killing" of Islamists in a crackdown by security forces.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies called the strike after saying that hundreds of people died on Sunday and early Monday, when police broke up a mass rally in central Dhaka.

At least 45 people are known to have been killed since Sunday afternoon when police first confronted Islamist activists who had blockaded the capital.

The Islamists are trying to pressure the government into introducing a new blasphemy law and have been calling for the execution of bloggers whom they accuse of having insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

The country's most prominent daily newspaper, Prothom Alo, said at least 49 people have died in the clashes, some of the fiercest street violence in decades.

However, the BNP says the real number of dead runs into the "hundreds", accusing the authorities of concealing bodies but without giving any evidence.

"We have called two days of nationwide strike to protest the mass killing of Hefajat-e-Islam workers and supporters on Sunday and Monday," BNP spokesman Khandaker Mosharraf said.

Police announced charges against 194 activists of the Hefajat-e-Islam (Protectorate of Islam), a hardline Islamic group behind the protests.

Its secretary general, Junayed Babu Nagori, who was arrested on Monday, faces a murder charge, the police spokesman Tabibur Rahamn said.

Hefajat's main leader, Allama Ahmad Shafi, 90, was put on a plane to the country's second city Chittagong on Monday where his supporters clashed with police, leaving at least five people dead.

The information minister, Hasanul Haque Inu, accused the heads of religious seminaries of encouraging "terrorist activities" by sending their students out to join the protests.

"The madrasa superintendents who are encouraging their students to take part in terrorist activities will be tried," he said.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has called for an end to the violence, expressing his sadness at the loss of life.

Mr Ban "urges political and religious leaders to engage in constructive dialogue and help defuse the tensions", said the UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.