‘Arrest the atheists who insulted Islam!’

Tens of thousands of Islamic activists prayed on the streets of the Bangladeshi capital today during a rally calling for the introduction of blaspemy laws and the restoration of a caretaker government.

Members of the Islami Andolan Bangladesh are demanding the arrest of ‘atheist bloggers who insulted Islam’ and to pass laws punishing those who ‘insulted Islam in the parliament’.

They have announced plans to ‘lay siege’ to the office of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on April 25 if their demands are not met.‘Arrest the atheists who insulted Islam!’

They include the restoration of the phrase ‘absolute trust and faith upon Almighty Allah’ in basic principles of the constitution; passing laws to punish atheists; holding of national elections under an impartial government; ensuring good governance and justice, uprooting terrorism and corruption; and establishing Islamic rule for a prosperous and welfare state.

According to www.thedailystar.net, the party’s Amir Mufti Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karimalso told the rally: ‘The incumbent and previous governments have nurtured corruption, violence, nepotism and other different evil practices during last few decades.

‘Islami Andolan Bangladesh should be voted to power to get rid of this situation.’

Meanwhile, clashes between police and supporters of the country’s biggest Islamic party left five dead on Friday during protests linked to ongoing war crimes trials, police and media said.

Jamaat-e-Islami activists have been staging countrywide strikes and rallies for months to protest against the trials which have placed nearly their entire party leadership in the dock, in cases dating back to the 1971 independence war.

Friday’s first incident occurred when lawmakers entered a village in northwestern Chapainawabganj district to arrest party activists accused of torching a power plant in such a protest last month.

About 6,000 villagers gathered to try and prevent the arrests, leading police to open fire.

‘We at first used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the mob, but they attacked us with hand bombs, sticks and bricks, forcing us to open fire,’ deputy district police chief Motiur Rahman told AFP.

‘We have heard the news of three men killed, but we have not seen any dead bodies,’ he said.

Local media reports quoted villagers saying three Jamaat supporters were killed, two on the spot and one on the way to hospital.

In a separate but similar wave of protests in northwestern Sirajganj district, two Jamaat supporters died after being hit with bullets, local police chief Shamsul Huq told AFP.

Police officers went to arrest an activist also accused of violence last month while protesting against the war crimes trial, but they too faced defiance from several thousand villagers.

With the latest deaths, 94 people have now been killed in clashes linked to the trials since the war crimes court handed down the first of its verdicts in January over atrocities during Bangladesh’s independence struggle from Pakistan.

Two Jamaat leaders have already been convicted by the tribunal, which critics accuse of trumping up charges in a bid by the government to settle political scores, rather than deliver justice.

The government says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war in which it says three million people were killed and 200,000 women raped.

Independent estimates put the death toll between 300,000 and 500,000.

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