At least five people have been reported dead and dozens wounded in eastern Bangladesh, as security forces opened fire to quell protests against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Hundreds of students from religious schools on Saturday clashed with police and border troops in the Brahmanbaria district. Police said they had to open fire to control the violence.
“We received three bullet-hit dead bodies and two others succumbed to their injuries later,” Abdullah Al Mamun, a doctor at the government-owned Brahmanbaria General Hospital, told Reuters.
A local police officer confirmed five had died but declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media, according to the news agency. Bangladeshi police did not officially confirm the death toll.
The violence began on Friday in the capital, Dhaka, and went on to rock several districts in the Muslim-majority nation of 168 million, where many groups accuse Modi of alienating minority Muslims in Hindu-majority India.
At least four supporters of the Hefazat-e-Islam group were killed on Friday after police opened fire when protesters allegedly attacked a police station in the southeastern town of Chittagong. Dozens were also hurt in Dhaka on Friday when police used rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes with protesters.
On Saturday, hundreds of members of Hefazat-e-Islam and other groups marched through Chittagong and Dhaka, protesting against the deaths of their supporters.
“Police opened fire on our peaceful supporters,” the group’s organising secretary Azizul Haque told a rally in Chittagong. “We will not let the blood of our brothers go in vain.”
Hefazat-e-Islam has called for a nationwide strike on Sunday to protest the killings. Amnesty International also criticised the police action in Chittagong.
“The right to peaceful protest has come under concerted attack, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, culminating in this type of bloody repression,” Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, Amnesty’s South Asia researcher, said in a statement.
Modi landed in Dhaka on Friday, his first international trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.
He left the country on Saturday after holding talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and gifting the country 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccine shots.
The two countries issued a joint statement celebrating their cooperation and partnership but the Bangladesh government made no comment about the protests.
Facebook services were unavailable in Bangladesh on Saturday, the social network said, adding it had serious concerns about the manner in which it was being restricted at a time when effective communication was necessary to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re aware that our services have been restricted in Bangladesh,” Facebook said in a statement. “We’re working to understand more and hope to have full access restored as soon as possible.”
The Bangladesh government did not comment on whether it had blocked Facebook and its Messenger app, but it has previously used internet shutdowns as a tool to curb the spread of protests.