Dhaka: Riot police and paramilitary troops in Bangladesh overnight chased thousands of Hefazat-e-Islami activists off the capital but fresh violence erupted at the southwestern gateway reaching the toll in the past 48 hours of clashes to at least 14.
Police confirmed three of their colleagues and a soldier of paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) were killed in the clashes overnight and early today while the situation prompted them to enforce a ban on public rallies in the city fearing the violence could spread further.
Doctors at the major state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) said 14 bodies were kept at their morgue but unconfirmed reports quoted the toll to be as high as 22 saying several of them were taken to private facilities.
“We are trying to gather information about the casualties,” police spokesman Mohammad Yousuf told Gulf News.
They said the three law enforcers were killed and over 50 people injured when the Hefazat activists launched an attack mobilising students of unregistered madrasas at the Kanchpur area spreading rumours that the paramilitary and police forces killed several of their comrades overnight.
The others including a police sub-inspector, a transport worker and radical activists or pedestrians were killed during the violence later yesterday.
The attack came as the BGB and police raided a madrasa at Sanarpara in Siddhirganj after Fajr (dawn) prayers suspecting that the radical activists prepared to lay a siege on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Police ban on public meetings came as the ruling Awami League and main opposition BNP were set to stage near simultaneous rallies in the capital against the backdrop of the yesterday’s violence.
Hefazat-e-Islam enforced their “Dhaka siege” programme blocking the entry points of the city and staged a grand rally at Shapla Chattar area of Motijheel which they wanted to linger for indefinite period defying a government warning.
But the combined action of the BGB, riot police and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) evicted the radical activists in 10 minutes using what they said sound grenades, tear gas canisters, blank gunshots and police’s armoured personnel carriers (APCs).
Witnesses said the activists of the newly floated radical group, mostly manned by students of unregistered madrasas, ran towards the Sayedabad and Jatrabari areas, the south-western gateway to the capital.
A senior RAB official said they found three bodies on the makeshift stage of the Hefazat and another on a nearby rickshaw van, all draped in white clothes.
“The Motijheel is now under our control ... Hefazat-e- Islami has quit the area,” a police spokesman said after the combined force of some 10,000 law enforcement agencies cleared the area last night at the heart of the city.
Meanwhile, hospital sources said eight bodies have been kept at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) where over 75 underwent treatment since 3am.
Hefazat, earlier preferred to defy a government warning asking them to leave the capital immediately after their “Dhaka siege” programme aimed to mount pressures on the ruling Awami League to enact a blasphemy law accepting their 13-point demand.
“Quit Dhaka immediately after your so-called rally or face stern punitive action,” local government minister and Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam said late yesterday.
Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia who is leading an anti-government campaign over electoral system meanwhile issued a statement asking party leaders and activists to stand by the Hefazat in their mission to “protect Islam”.
The government also alleged that the BNP’s crucial ally fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami was behind the Sunday’s violence while the main opposition party tried to use the Hefazat to expose the government to a difficult situation.
Violence griped the capital on Sunday afternoon as the radical activists enforced a blockade demanding a tougher blasphemy law as part of their 13-point demand, cutting off Dhaka’s road links with rest of the country.
They fought a pitched battle with police turning the Purana Paltan area into a virtual battlefield leaving the three people dead.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is most great) and “One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged”, activists from the hardline Hefajat-e-Islam marched along at least six highways, blocking transport between Dhaka and other cities.
Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina in a press conference on Friday urged the radical group to call off their planned demonstration.