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Proposed blasphemy law leads to clashes between protestors, police in Bangladesh

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Followers of Hifazat in the southeast nation of Bangladesh have called upon their government to abandon its secular leadership and take up laws based upon Islamic law. Followers have now taken to violent protests in the capital of Dhaka. The leader of Hifazat-e-Islam, Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi has since been forced to exit Dhaka after clashes between group's supporters and police leave many dead.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed says existing laws already have sufficient safeguards to address the protesters' concerns, saying that the government "will not allow any chaos in the name of Islam, a religion of peace." She has been leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009.

Demonstrators have demanded mandatory religious education and the end to what they described as an "anti-Islam" policy that calls for gender equality. They are also demanding the death penalty for all those who defame Islam.

Also tantamount on the group's 13-point list of demands is a ban on men and women mixing freely together and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution.

Critics have denounced Hifazat's demands as a charter for turning Bangladesh into a nation like the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Religious leader Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi was taken out of the Hifazat-e-Islam headquarters in Dhaka before being put on a plane to the second city Chittagong. He had not been arrested.

The violence from demonstrations began spilling beyond the capital on Monday, with at least two police officers and a border guard reported dead in Narayanganj. Clashes between security forces and demonstrators that raged in the center of Dhaka left at least 14 people dead on Sunday.

More than 10,000 forces drawn from police, the elite Rapid Action Battalion and paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh jointly launched a drive to clear demonstrators from a major thoroughfare in Dhaka.

The protesters demand an anti-blasphemy law with provision for the death penalty and had previously announced their determination to shut down Bangladesh's main business hub Motijheel until the government accepts their demands.

The latest turmoil comes as the government struggles to deal with outrage over the collapse of a factory building north-west of Dhaka, where the death toll has risen to 610. Rescue workers continue to search through the rubble. 

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