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20 Dead in Bangladesh Anti-Blasphemy Protests

Authorities in Bangladesh have broken up a protest by tens of thousands of Islamist hardliners in the capital Dhaka, following clashes with police that left at least 20 people dead.

The protesters were demanding the government enact an anti-blasphemy law.

Police say the protesters pelted police with stones late Sunday and that officers responded with rubber bullets. Local media say at least 15 crude bombs exploded near the ruling Awami League's headquarters.
The protesters dispersed early Monday.

Video footage showed fires raging in the night sky, with burned shops and dozens of vehicles ablaze.

The Awami League and an opposition alliance had both planned rallies later Monday in response to the unrest, but postponed them. Police banned all protests for the rest of the day.

Protester demands from the newly formed Hifazat-e-Islam group come in response to what hardliners say is a group of local "atheist" Internet bloggers accused of insulting Islam.

The group has authored a list of demands -- including an end to what it calls "the godless education system," and new laws prohibiting the public mixing of men and women. It also wants a ban on the construction of monuments and statues in the country and a curtailment of women's rights.

Dozens of demonstrators were arrested during the overnight violence. Hundreds of bankers, insurance officials and stock market traders had to sleep in their offices amid the sound of gunfire.

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