Bangladeshi PM hints at backing ban of Islamic party

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 16, 2013 20:38 hrs

Dhaka: Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina indicated today that she would back a ban on the country's largest Islamic party, as tens of thousands of people joined the funeral of an anti-Islamist blogger and demanded death penalty for 1971 war criminals.

Protesters chanted slogans promising to avenge architect Rajib Haidar's assassination as his national flag draped coffin reached Shahbagh in the afternoon for the Namaaz-e-Janaza.

Haidar, 30, an architect and Shahbagh protest activist, was stabbed to death near his house at Pallabi in the capital last night.

Prime Minister Hasina visited Haidar's residence today to meet with bereaved family members where she said "they (killers) will not be spared".

Describing Rajib as the first 'martyr' of the Shahbagh uprising, she was quoted by BD News as saying, "I was apprehensive that something like this might happen, and it actually happened".

Taking a dig at the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), she said, "Many claim that they are a democratic political party, a democratic force. Now it is proved that they believe in terrorism not democracy".

"We will do to them what is necessary. They have absolutely no right to be in politics in free Bangladesh," she said.

Leaders of the ruling party have also spoken in support of this demand.

The Prime Minister expressed her condolences for the grieving family of the slain blogger.

"We have launched a massive manhunt for killers of Rajib Haidar... the detective branch and the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) separately took fingerprints to track down the assailants," a police spokesman told PTI.

The protesters at Shahbagh accused JI of killing Haidar with lethal weapons last evening while he was returning home.

"Five suspected assailants were arrested while we mobilised our resources to apprehend the killers who fled the scene after the murder," a police spokesman told reporters. 

The killing prompted the protesters to go back to their 24-hour movement instead of seven-hour programme which they had declared hours before the death.

Haidar's death came hours after violence at southeastern Cox's Bazar district that left three people dead. The violence broke out after JI activists turned violent following Friday prayers to protest their top leaders' trial for war crimes.

JI and their student affiliate Islamic Chhatra Shibir were trying to wage counter protest attacking or torching vehicles and attacking policemen under a hit and run strategy to halt their leaders' ongoing trial.

The violence saw deaths of at least 14 people, including Haidar, who apparently incurred the wrath of the Islamists for his internet blog campaign demanding ban on the JI politics and boycott of the health, banking and other services as part of the youngsters "non-political and non-partisan" movement.

"We announce from here, we will not go back home until the war criminals are hanged, his (Haidar's) assailants are exposed to justice and politics of Jamaat and Shibir is banned," said a leading organiser of the Shahbagh protest.

Meanwhile, JI has called a nationwide general strike on Monday and enforced a localised one in Cox's Bazar today to protest deaths of three of the party's activists yesterday.

Thousands of people in Bangladesh have held candlelight vigils in last two days, at the call of the Shahbagh protesters seeking national solidarity for their campaign.

Parliament members have also joined the vigil in memory of the 1971 war martyrs killed by Pakistani troops.

Ten high-profile accused were tried by courts for war crimes and on February 5, a special tribunal convicted JI leader Abdul Quader Mollah for "crimes against humanity" and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The verdict angered the youngsters and 1971 war veterans and surprised many who believed he deserved death penalty as the tribunal had found charges like mass killings, rapes and arson, valid against Mollah.

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