Activists of the Hefazat-e Islam, a hard-line islamist group, walk behind a banner along a road during a demonstration on the…
Activists of Hefazat-e Islam, a hard-line islamist group, march on the outskirts of Dhaka, March 27, 2021, a day after deadly clashes with police during a protest against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Bangladesh.

COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH - At least five people were killed and dozens injured Saturday by police gunfire in eastern Bangladesh, a hospital doctor said, as security forces tried to quell protests against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Hundreds of students from Islamic religious schools clashed with police and border troops in the eastern Brahmanbaria district. Police said they had to open fire to control the violence.

Many Islamist groups in Bangladesh accuse Modi of alienating minority Muslims in Hindu-majority India. The two countries issued a joint statement celebrating their cooperation and partnership, but the Bangladesh government made no comment about the protests.

"We received three bullet-hit dead bodies and two others succumbed to their injuries later," Abdullah Al Mamun, a doctor at the government-owned Brahmanbaria General Hospital, told Reuters.

A local police officer confirmed five had died but declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Bangladeshi police did not officially confirm the death toll.

Fatalities on Friday

Protests raged across Bangladesh against Modi but also over the police killing of Islamists who had demonstrated against his two-day visit.

Four supporters of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam were killed Friday when police opened fire at protesters who allegedly attacked a police station in the southeastern town of Chittagong.

Dozens were also hurt in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday when police used rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes with protesters.

On Saturday, hundreds of members of Hefazat-e-Islam and other Islamist groups marched through Chittagong and Dhaka, protesting the deaths of their supporters.

"Police opened fire on our peaceful supporters," the group's organizing secretary, Azizul Haque, told a rally in Chittagong. "We will not let the blood of our brothers go in vain."

Strike called for Sunday

Hefazat-e-Islam, which translates as Protection of Islam, has called for a nationwide strike Sunday to protest the killings.

Amnesty International also criticized the police action in Chittagong.

"The right to peaceful protest has come under concerted attack, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, culminating in this type of bloody repression," Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, Amnesty's South Asia researcher, said in a statement.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gives the Gandhi Peace Prize, awarded posthumously to Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to his daughters, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, center, and Sheikh Rehana, in Dhaka, March 26, 2021.

Modi arrived in Dhaka on Friday, his first international trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence.

He left the country Saturday after holding talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and giving the country 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Facebook services were unavailable in Bangladesh on Saturday, the social network said, adding it had serious concerns about the manner in which it was being restricted at a time when effective communication was necessary to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're aware that our services have been restricted in Bangladesh," Facebook said in a statement. "We're working to understand more and hope to have full access restored as soon as possible."

The Bangladesh government did not comment on whether it had blocked Facebook and its Messenger app, but it has previously used internet shutdowns as a tool to curb the spread of protests.

 

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