Bangladesh has sacked a top minister after his criticism of the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj triggered protests by Islamists who declared him an apostate and set a 24-hour deadline to replace him.

Abdul Latif Siddique, the country's telecommunications minister, who is in New York accompanying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, made the comments which were aired by local television stations.

Hajj is a waste of manpower. Those who perform Hajj do not have any productivity. They deduct from the economy, spend a lot of money abroad.

Abdul Latif Siddique

"I am dead against Hajj and Tablighi Jamaat. Two million people have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj," Siddique said.

"Hajj is a waste of manpower. Those who perform Hajj do not have any productivity. They deduct from the economy, spend a lot of money abroad."

The comments drew immediate protests from the Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam whose leaders called him "an apostate".

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has urged the government to bring Siddique to justice for his "derogatory" comments, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

"Unless Latif is brought to justice, the people's wrath cannot be tamed," senior BNP leader and spokesman General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was quoted as saying by the English language newspaper.

A senior government official told AFP news agency that Siddique would be removed but he did not comment whether it was linked to demand by the Islamists.

"The decision has been taken to remove him from the Cabinet," the official from the Prime Minister's Office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Daily Star also confirmed the sacking in its report published on its website.

Siddique also criticised the non-political Islamic group, Tablighi Jamaat, millions of whose followers congregate outside the Bangladeshi capital each year in what authorities called the second largest Muslim gathering after the Hajj.

He said the around two million people who gathered "don't do any work except halting traffic movement throughout the country.

There was no comment from the Tablighi Jamaat.

Source: Agencies