Several hundred supporters of the country’s largest Islamist party went on the rampage in Dhaka yesterday during a protest to demand the release of several of their top leaders arrested on war crimes charges.
The crimes allegedly took place during Bangladesh’s fight for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to try and disperse members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, who were conducting a country-wide campaign yesterday against the imprisonment of their leaders, who were arrested amid a probe into individuals accused of collaborating with Pakistan and committing atrocities during the war.
More than 100 people including two dozen policemen were injured in the clash which, according to police, flared when the protesters suddenly became violent.
At least 230 cars, including five police vehicles, were set on fire or attacked and many shops were vandalized during the trouble, police sources said.
Media reports said similar incidents took place in a number of districts across the country.
According to police, at least 120 people were arrested during the course of the Dhaka violence, which took place in the Kakrail district close to where St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Archbishop’s House and St. Joseph’s Seminary are located.
“I haven’t seen clashes like this for twenty years. We’re lucky no Church buildings were affected even though the road outside the cathedral looked like a battlefield,” said Father Kamal Corraya, the Dhaka archdiocesan social communications commission convener.
Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Dhaka wasn’t so lucky, having been struck by a stone in Ramna Park, which is next to the cathedral, just as the clash began.
The prelate was exercising in the park when he was struck and several seminarians went to his assistance, but luckily the prelate was unharmed, Archbishop’s House sources said.
Holy Cross Fr Pankaj Nokrek, who had travelled to Dhaka for a meeting yesterday, had to run for cover when the violence broke out.
“I had to run through tear gas and scenes of chaos. It was an awful experience, but at least I and some other people managed to find safety in a nearby house,” he said.