Dhaka: A "minor explosion" outside the hotel where President Pranab Mukherjee was staying caused a flutter among the visiting Indian delegation but police dismissed it as only a firecracker aimed to enforce the strike as Bangladesh continued to be rocked by days of a mass upsurge and killings as Islamist fundamentalists faced off with secularists to claim the nation's soul and political space.
The explosion on the road intersection outside the Hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon, first thought to be a cocktail explosion, found virtually no mention in Bangladeshi media. Indian officials said "none of the delegation members heard any explosion nor knew of any such incident". Police later said it was only a firecracker and that the incident had been blown up by the media.
The incident came even as three people were killed in fresh clashes in Bangladesh and three compartments of a train were set on fire at Kamalapur Railway Station in the city.
Referring to the incident, Venu Rajamony, press secretary to the Indian president, said in a statement that "life in and around the hotel in Dhaka where the president is staying is completely normal. None of the delegation members heard any explosion nor knew of any such incident."
"Bursting of such cocktails are common in Bangladesh during hartals and cannot be described as a bomb," the statement said.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police official Chowdhury Mozurul Kabir told Indian newspersons that it was a "small (fire) cracker", aimed to create panic and enforce the hartal.
"It was a small cracker. The explosion took place at 2 p.m., on the middle of the road away from the hotel," said Kabir.
The Jamaat-e-Islami has called a two-day strike from Sunday to protest the death sentence to Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee for the 1971 war crimes, including rape and genocide. Over 70 people have been killed in clashes since the Thursday sentence handed down by a war crimes tribunal.
Three more people died in fresh clashes in Shatkheera and in Sirazganj by protesting Jamaat members Monday, taking the toll since last Thursday to over 70.
The incident comes a day after opposition leader Khaleda Zia, in an apparent snub, called off a meeting with Mukherjee. The Bangladesh National Party chief and former chief minister was to meet Mukherjee Monday evening.
She had met him last year during her India visit. Her party is in alliance with the Jamaat.
Mukherjee had in the morning attended a convocation ceremony at the Dhaka University where authorities described him as "the first Bengali president of India" and conferred on him a doctorate of law degree.
Speaking at the convocation, Mukherjee expressed confidence that Bangladesh's democratic traditions would grow stronger with time and the people would preserve democracy with their "constant vigil".
His comments come when the country is witnessing its largest protests in 20 years at Shahbag, near the university.
Spearheaded mostly by students active on social media platforms like Facebook, twitter and blogging forums, the protests have galvanised thousands to demand death penalty for those guilty of war crimes, mostly Jamaat activists.
Mukherjee was later conferred the Liberation War Honour Award in recognition of his "outstanding contribution" to the 1971 liberation war.
In his acceptance speech, Mukherjee recalled events of the 1971 war and how he in June 15, 1971, he initiated a discussion on the floor of the Rajya Sabha "..when I suggested that India should accord diplomatic recognition to the Government of Bangladesh in exile in Mujibnagar.
He assured Bangladesh of India's continuing cooperation and friendship, saying: "As in 1971, so in 2013, the people of India stand beside the people of Bangladesh. We will walk with you as equal partners, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm."