DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – At least four people were killed and dozens injured in violent protests on Friday sparked by the arrival of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bangladesh to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence.
The victims came after students from a prominent Islamic madrasa or school and members of an Islamist group clashed with police in the southeastern Chattogram district.
Alauddin Talukder, a Chattogram Medical College Hospital police officer, told reporters that five people with injuries were taken to the hospital and four of them died during treatment. No further details could be confirmed immediately.
Local media reported that members of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, which has a network of Islamic schools, attacked government structures, including a police station and a land office, in the Hathazari area of Chattogram before police will act.
At Dhaka’s main mosque, clashes broke out between groups of protesters and police dispersed the crowd using tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring dozens of people, officials and witnesses said.
Protesters also set fire to the offices of a train station in the eastern district of Brahmanbaria, disrupting the train’s communications.
Modi’s two-day visit, the first abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began, will include the commemoration of 100 years since the birth of Bangladesh’s independence leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister. Sheikh Hasina.
Hasina, India’s key partner in maintaining regional stability, welcomed Modi at the airport on Friday morning.
Critics accuse Modi’s Hindu nationalist party of stoking religious polarization in India and discriminating against minorities, particularly Muslims. In recent weeks, protesters in Bangladesh urged the Indian leader not to visit and chanted anti-India and anti-Modi slogans. Hasina has also been criticized for inviting him.
Outside the Baitul Mokarram mosque, hundreds of protesters had gathered in the afternoon. Witnesses said the clashes began after a faction of protesters began waving their shoes in disrespect for Modi, and another group tried to stop them.
Local media said that the protesters who tried to stop the movement of the shoes are aligned with the ruling Awami League party. The party criticized the other protest faction for trying to create chaos in the country during Modi’s visit.
Local television showed the protesters throwing stones at the police, who were very present in the streets near the mosque. Somoy TV reported that at least 40 people were injured, including journalists, and were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital for treatment.
Abdul Mazid, a businessman who joined the prayer, told The Associated Press that he was trapped in the mosque after trying to flee when violence broke out during the prayer.
“I had a feeling that something was going to happen. I’m still inside the mosque, ”he said by phone. “There is great violence, I can see from here.”
A police officer said that members of various Islamist groups had joined the protests, but it was not immediately clear which groups they represented. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with regulations. He declined to give figures on how many people were injured.
After Modi’s arrival, Hasina told an audience at a parade square in Dhaka that Bangladesh’s relations with India reached a new record.
“Our (bilateral) relations with India have now escalated to new heights,” he said. “If we move hand in hand, the development of our people is inevitable.”
While Modi’s trip is primarily focused on Bangladesh’s anniversary celebrations, the visit also has a political agenda at home, as voting begins on Saturday in various state-level elections, including West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh.
With an eye toward galvanizing Hindu support in the key state of the battlefield, Modi will visit a Hindu temple on the outskirts of Dhaka that is sacred to the Matua community in West Bengal. The vote of the Matua sect is expected to determine the winner of at least seven seats in a close race for control of the state assembly.
Modi, in a tweet Thursday night before his trip, said the two countries share a vital relationship.
“Our partnership with Bangladesh is an important pillar of our Neighborhood First policy, and we are committed to deepening and diversifying it further. We will continue to support Bangladesh’s remarkable development journey, under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, ”he said.