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Students block roads as they protest to demand a merit-based system for civil service jobs in Dhaka on July 10, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s top court on Wednesday temporarily suspended quotas for coveted government jobs after thousands of students staged nationwide protests against what they call a discriminatory system, lawyers said.

The quota system reserves more than half of well-paid and massively over-subscribed civil service posts, totalling hundreds of thousands of government jobs, for specific groups including children of liberation heroes.

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Students launched protests earlier this month, demanding a merit-based system, with demonstrations on Wednesday blocking highways and railway lines.

“Our only demand is that the government abolish the quota system,” said student protest leader Rasel Ahmed, from Chittagong University.

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“We will not return to classrooms until our demand is met,” Ahmed told AFP.

The quota system was abolished in 2018 after weeks of protests, but reinstated in June by Dhaka’s High Court, sparking fury from students.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended that order for a month, said lawyer Shah Monjurul Hoque, who represents two students seeking to end the quota system.

“The Supreme Court... passed a status quo order (suspension order) on the High Court verdict for four weeks,” Hoque told AFP, adding the chief justice, Obaidul Hassan, had requested that students go back to class.

‘Limited number of jobs’

The quota system reserves 30 per cent of government posts for children of those who fought to win Bangladeshi independence in 1971, 10 per cent for women, and 10 per cent for residents of specific districts.

Students said only those quotas supporting ethnic minorities and disabled people - six percent of jobs - should remain.

Critics say the system benefits children of pro-government groups, who back Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

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Image Credit: AFP

Her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was Bangladesh’s founding leader.

Hasina, 76, won her fourth consecutive general election in January.

Hasina has condemned the protests, saying the matter had been settled by the court.

“Students are wasting their time,” Hasina said Sunday, adding there was “no justification for the anti-quota movement”.

Thousands of students on Wednesday threw up barricades across key intersections in Dhaka, as well as blocking major highways connecting the capital to other cities, police said.

Students in the city of Mymensingh blocked the railway to stop trains from moving, Al Mamun, a police inspector, told AFP.

Hemayetul Islam, deputy police chief in the northwestern city of Rajshahi said that “at least 200 students” blocked the highway to Dhaka.

“Brilliant students no longer get the jobs they want because of this quota system,” said Halimatuz Sadia, a protester and physics student at Chittagong University.

“You work hard only to find out that there are only a limited number of jobs available,” she added.