Bangladesh Islamists rally for blasphemy law
Tens of thousands of radical Muslims marched toward the capital on Saturday to demand laws to target bloggers they said denigrated Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
The bloggers initiated a recent sit-in at Shahbagh Square demanding the death penalty for people involved in war crimes perpetrated more than four decades ago. Saturday's marchers termed them atheists who should be brought to justice for blasphemy.
The sit-in protesters at Shahbagh Square demanded the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic party in Bangladesh, which opposed the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
Online activists who had a pioneering role in organizing the Shahbagh sit-in denied they were atheists.
Muslim hard-liners under the banner of Hefazat-e-Islam on Saturday rallied against bloggers and authors.
Meanwhile, some 25 liberal groups denounced the Hefazat rally and enforced a daylong general strike across Bangladesh, keeping capital Dhaka's communications cut off with the rest of the country on Saturday.
The Hefazat rally was supported by the large opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies, including Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.
Earlier in February, a blogger was slain in Dhaka, reportedly for an anti-Islamic posting. Police last week detained four bloggers on charge of damaging religious sentiment.
The Hefazat rally branded the government as cohorts of the atheists and said they wanted it to meet 13 demands, including reinstatement of "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah" in the constitution and capital punishment for those who would denigrate Islam and its prophet.
The demands included declaration of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect as non-Muslim, a ban on free mixing of men and women, making Islamic education mandatory at all levels and no installation of any sculpture in any public place.
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