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Strike over 'mass killing' of Islamists in Bangladesh

Bangladesh witnesses a nationwide protests over the 'mass killing' of Islamists by police forces

AFP , Wednesday 8 May 2013
People gather in front of a building, which activists of Hefajat-e Islam had set fire to during a clash with the police on Sunday, in front of the national mosque in Dhaka May 6, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Schools and businesses were closed on Wednesday as a nationwide strike called by Bangladesh's opposition over the killings of Islamists in a police crackdown brought large parts of the country to a halt.

Security was tight in the capital Dhaka with thousands of policemen on patrol. Dhaka roads and inter-city motorways were empty as bus and lorry operators suspended their services.

Protesters hurled three small homemade bombs in Dhaka's Tejgaon district, but no one was injured, local police chief Mohammad Moniruzzaman told AFP.

Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies called the two-day shutdown to protest what they describe as the "mass killing" of hardliners from the Hefajat-e-Islam (Protectorate of Islam) organisation in a crackdown by security forces.

According to an AFP tally compiled after talking to police and medical sources, 38 people have been killed since Sunday afternoon when police first confronted tens of thousands of Islamists 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 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.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International has called for "an independent and impartial investigation into police use of force" after it said its own investigations had found at least 44 people died in the clashes.

"There is considerable confusion about what really happened, and why the deaths occurred," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty's deputy regional director.

"There must urgently be an immediate independent and impartial investigation into the events, including the police use of force. The perpetrators must be brought to justice."

The protest by Hefajat, which draws support from madrassas (Islamic schools), was another sign of the divide between Islamists and the secular government after the deaths of around 100 people earlier this year in violence linked to war crimes trials.

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