18-Party Calls Hartal for Wednesday, Thursday

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Bangladeshi opposition parties have called a two-day nationwide shutdown from Wednesday to protest what they describe as the “mass killing” of Islamists in a crackdown by security forces.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies called the strike after claiming that hundreds of people were killed on Sunday and early Monday, when police broke up a mass rally in central Dhaka.

According to an AFP tally compiled after talking to police and medical sources, 38 people are known to have been killed since Sunday afternoon when police first confronted Islamist activists who had blockaded the capital.

The country’s most prominent daily Prothom Alo said at least 49 people have died in the clashes, some of the fiercest street violence in decades.

However the BNP says the real number of dead runs into the “hundreds”, accusing the authorities of concealing bodies.

“We have called two days of nationwide strike to protest the mass killing of Hefajat-e-Islam workers and supporters on Sunday and Monday,” BNP spokesman Khandaker Mosharraf told AFP on Tuesday.

The strike would begin at 6:00am (0100 GMT) on Wednesday and end at 6:00pm on Thursday, Mosharraf added.

Sunday’s protest by the Hefajat-e-Islam organisation was another sign of the divide between Islamists and the secular government, after the deaths of around 100 people earlier this months in violence linked to war crimes trials.

Three leading Islamists have so far been convicted by a special tribunal for their alleged role in mass killings during the 1971 independence war, which saw what was then East Pakistan break from the regime in Islamabad.

The overall death toll in violence between religious groups and the police since January now stands at around 150, although figures may be higher. Majority of those killed have been opposition members.

Khandker Mosharraf said the alliance will hold gayebana namaj-e-janaza (funeral prayer in absentia) across the country, including the capital Dhaka, on Tuesday for those killed in the crackdown early Monday.

He said the gayebana namaj-e-janaza in Dhaka will be held in front of BNP’s Nayapaltan central office after Asr prayers.

Denouncing the government for the brutal crackdown, Mosharraf said the BNP will come up with a statement in this regard tomorrow (Tuesday). “We have no words to condemn such an inhuman incident,” he added.


News source: UNB and AFP
Image source: http://www.seattlepi.com