Bangladesh: Death toll in anti-Modi protests rises to 13

Two people died in fresh clashes between protesters and Bangladesh police on Sunday, raising the death toll from protests against the visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to 13, officials said.

The protesters,  mostly from a religious group called Hefazat-e-Islam were angry at the visit of Modi as Bangladesh marked 50 years of independence, accusing him of stoking communal violence against Muslims in his country.

Five people died on Friday, and another six the next day, after police shot at demonstrators in several main districts across the Muslim-majority nation of 168 million people.

Two – a 19-year-old and a 23-year-old – died in the eastern district of Brahmanbaria after officers opened fire in clashes in the rural town of Sarail on Sunday, AFP news agency reported.

“Protesters stormed a highway police station, torching it and injuring at least 35 policemen. Police opened fire in self-defence,” the spokesman said.

Some 3,000 protesters, mostly from Hefazat blocked a highway and attacked police with bricks and stones.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan called for the protests to be halted.

“Our security forces are observing this with patience,” Khan told reporters on Sunday. “We think if this is not stopped, we’ll take necessary actions.”

At another protest in Narayanganj just outside the capital Dhaka on Sunday, Hefazat supporters chanted “action, action, direct action” as they blocked the key highway linking Dhaka with the port city of Chittagong.

Hundreds of demonstrators burned tyres on the roads as they chanted anti-Modi slogans and called on authorities to investigate the earlier shootings.

Police fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets after the protesters barricaded parts of the highway.

Hefazat spokesman Jakaria Noman Foyezi told AFP thousands of its supporters joined demonstrations at its headquarters at Hathazari outside Chittagong.

Local media also reported clashes between Hefazat supporters and police in several other cities and towns.

As Bangladesh celebrated independence, human rights groups criticised the government for what they described as growing authoritarianism, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Other groups including students, leftists and other political outfits also staged protests against Modi’s visit on Friday and Saturday.