Twenty-two people have been killed and several injured in violent protests led by Islamists in Bangaladesh’s capital city of Dhaka. Upwards of 70,000 protesters took to the streets and blocked off several main highways, preventing commercial traffic from entering and exciting the city. Fighting broke out Sunday evening into the morning hours of Monday, when Islamists demanded the legalization of an anti-blasphemy law. With the impending elections occurring in January, police can expect more protests as these Islamic grievances worsen.
"We were forced to act after they unlawfully continued their gathering at Motijheel. They attacked us with bricks, stones, rods and bamboo sticks," police spokesman Masudur Rahman said.
In response, policeman used sound grenades, water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets as attempts to break up the violent crowds. The Hefazat-e Islami group has come into the spotlight with these protests as the conservative-led organization has heavily promoted a pro-Islamic regime in Bangladesh. The group calls for the segregation of men and women and for Islam to have a larger presence in education. However with Bangladeshi officials reverting back to a secular democratic regime, they do not plan to give into Hefazat-e Islami demands.
Protestors were found chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is greatest”) and calling for atheists to be hung. These protests come shortly after a disastrous building collapse in the capital city that killed hundreds of industrial workers. As of now, the death toll is at 650 but unfortunately that number may be on the rise as crews continue to uncover victims in the rubble.
An added tension surrounding these violent protests is the Bangladeshi government gearing up for new elections in January. As of now strong Islamic animosity towards the regime has ensued after officials have pursued investigations of possible war crimes committed in the 1971 liberation from Pakistan.
Now Islamic groups including Hefazat-e Islami have made it their mission to call for some strict overhead in the elections. In addition, the two main political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party have been at odds as they fail to settle on who will be held responsible for being the caretaker government prior to the elections. With these growing tensions, groups like Hefazat-e Islami may continue to exercise sporadic, violent demonstrations and gain leverage in the turbulent political climate.