Five supporters of a hardline Islamist group were shot dead in Bangladesh on Friday in violent demonstrations over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour to Dhaka, officials said.
It comes as Bangladesh marks 50 years of independence from Pakistan with celebrations focused on its economic achievements, which activist groups say have been overshadowed by rights abuses. 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 five 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, said. He said at least four other demonstrators were critically injured.
Ruhul Amin, the government administrator of Hathazari town, said up to 1,500 supporters of Hefazat attacked a police station chanting anti-Modi slogans.
“They attacked us all of a sudden,” he said, without confirming whether any protesters were killed. Hathazari is home to one of Bangladesh’s largest madrasas and is the headquarters of the Hefazat, which was formed in 2010 and is believed to be the country’s largest hardline Islamist outfit.
Hefazat spokesman Mir Idris accused the police of “opening fire” at their “peaceful” supporters.
“There were some 5,000 protesters. They were all Hefazat supporters and they were mostly madrasa students. They were protesting Mr. Modi’s visit and police actions against demonstrators in Dhaka,” he said.
He was referring to other smaller clashes at the compound of the country’s largest mosque in central Dhaka after Friday prayers when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at brick-throwing Islamist supporters.
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 and other Islamist outfits — have been staging protests over the last few days against Mr. Modi’s visit.
They accuse Mr. Modi of stoking religious tensions and inciting anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002.
On Thursday, more than 40 people were injured, including four police officers, during a student demonstration. At least 33 people were detained for violence.
Clashes also occurred at Dhaka University on Thursday evening, when pro-government student activists allegedly beat dozens of anti-Modi student protesters. The violence has overshadowed Bangladesh’s celebrations for 50 years of independence from Pakistan.
The former East Pakistan emerged as a new nation in 1971 after a brutal war involving India marked by horrific abuses that Bangladesh says killed as many as three million and displaced many more.