5 killed after police clashed with anti-Modi protesters in Bangladesh
Dhaka, Bangladesh: At least five demonstrators were killed in Bangladesh after police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at hundreds of mainly student demonstrators Thursday, who were protesting against an upcoming visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a statement to the media, the police said they took extreme measures against the hardline Islamist group because the crowd went out of control in the capital Dhaka, with many throwing rocks and stones at officers, injuring at least four.
"We fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them. There were 200 protesters. We have also arrested 33 people for violence," police official Syed Nurul Islam told AFP.
2,000 mainly student protesters joined the demonstration, a spokesperson for the march said.
The protest was hurled at Modi for inciting anti-Muslim sentiments and stoking religious violence in the Indian state of Gujrat in 2002 that resulted in the death of about 1k people.
Hindu-nationalist leader Modi was Gujarat's chief minister at the time of the deadly religious riot.
"Some 40 protesters were injured, including 18 hospitalized with injuries from police beatings and rubber bullets," Bin Yamin Molla, a senior official of the Student Rights Council, which organized the protest, told AFP.
Police said four bodies of members of Hefazat-e-Islam, a hardline Islamist group, were brought to Chittagong Medical College Hospital after violence erupted at Hathazari, a rural town where the group's main leaders are based.
"We got four bodies here. They are all hit with bullets. Three of them are madrasa students and another a tailor," Alauddin Talukder, a police inspector at the hospital, told AFP.
In a separate show of anguish against the Indian Prime Minister who is scheduled to visit the Muslim-majority nation soon, protestors slaughtered a cow -- scared to most Hindus -- on the street.
Violence also spread at Jatrabari, a neighborhood in the capital Dhaka, and in the eastern border district of Brahmanbaria with thousands of madrasa students demonstrating in the two places.
At Brahmanbaria one person was killed during clashes with police, a police spokesman told AFP, adding officers "opened live fire" and lobbed tear gas at Islamists protesting Modi's visit for the independence day celebrations.
Hefazat spokesman Jakaria Noman Foyezi told AFP the deceased was a supporter of the group. He added some 100,000 supporters of the group staged protests in at least 22 cities and towns across the country.
Police also fired tear gas and rubber bullets at over 4,000 madrasa students at Jatrabari, where the protesters barricaded a key highway linking Dhaka with the southeastern region, police said.
"They went unruly and even threw a Molotov cocktail bomb at police," Dhaka Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Shah Iftekhar told AFP.
Hefazat is known for its nationwide network and large-scale protests demanding blasphemy laws in Bangladesh. In 2013 police clashed with tens of thousands of Hefazat supporters in Dhaka, leaving nearly 50 people dead.
Hefazat aside, a diverse range of Bangladeshi groups -- including students, leftist,s and other Islamist outfits -- have been staging protests over the last few days against Modi's visit.
Former East Pakistan emerged as a new nation in 1971 after a brutal war involving India, which Bangladesh says killed as many as three million and displaced many more.
For decades the nation was ravaged by famines, coups, and natural disasters but in recent years under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, it has boomed economically with GDP per head more than quadrupling since 2000, although the human rights situation has deteriorated sharply, activists say.
Modi's two-day tour to the Muslim-majority nation, starting on Friday, will cap Dhaka's 10-day celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of its independence from Pakistan.
The celebrations also mark the birth centenary of the nation's founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was the father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Leaders from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives have already attended the festivities, which started on March 17.
During his visit, Modi will tour two temples in southern rural districts, including the birthplace of a top Hindu reformer who has tens of millions of followers in the Indian state of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
With reporting by AFP.