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Bangladesh protesters clash with police

At least 20 injured as hardline Muslim groups continue to push for anti-blasphemy law that would include death penalty.

Last Modified: 08 Apr 2013 09:01
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Crowds gathered in Dhaka in protest sparked by bloggers accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad [AFP]

At least 20 people have been injured in southwest Bangladesh as a hardline Islamic group enforces a general strike to back its demands for an anti-blasphemy law.

Police and Somoy TV station have said that the violence on Monday took place in Chittagong city when activists from Hifazat-e-Islam clashed with ruling Awami League supporters.

Police official Abdullahel Baki said on Monday the Hifazat-e-Islam protesters threw stones at police and the ruling party supporters.

The TV station said one ruling party member was hit by a bullet, but it was not immediately clear who fired it.

The Hifazat-e-Islam protesters also blocked a rail line in eastern Brahmanbaria district to disrupt train services.

Blasphemy law

Bangladesh's prime minister has ruled out a new blasphemy law despite the mass campaign to introduce the death penalty for bloggers whom they accuse of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Sheikh Hasina, who has been leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009, said existing laws were adequate to prosecute anyone accused of insulting a religion.

"Actually, we don't have any plan to [bring in a new law]. We don't need it," Hasina told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Monday.

"They should know that existing laws are enough," she added, before stressing that "this country is a secular democracy".

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in the capital Dhaka to demand a blasphemy law, with provisions for the death penalty for those who defame Islam.

Media debate

There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh's social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered.

Four online writers were arrested last week on charges of hurting religious sentiment through their Internet writings against Islam.

Under existing cyber laws, anyone convicted of defaming a religion on the internet can be jailed for up to 10 years.

Hifazat-e-Islam, which describes itself as a non-political organisation, has given the government until the end of the month to meet a series of demands or face a blockade of the capital.

The group also wants Islamic education to be made mandatory in primary and secondary schools, members of the Ahmadi sect to be declared non-Muslims and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution, which Hasina's government has deleted.

Hardline groups have accused Hasina's government of trying to intimidate the opposition through a series of trials for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1971 war of independence.

Three hardline Muslims have so far been convicted and two of them were sentenced to death. At least 96 people have been killed during protests over the trials since January.

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Source:
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