Violent clashes continued for more than four hours at Paltan on Sunday afternoon between the Hifazat-e-Islam supporters and the police. The place had turned into a virtual battlefield with the police firing rubber bullets to keep the Islamists at bay.
The clashes erupted at around 11:00am and until 3:00pm, police had fired more than a hundred rounds of teargas shells and rubber bullets, witnesses said.
bdnews24.com Correspondents present at the site when the skirmishes broke out reported that Hifazat supporters set a makeshift book stall near the Mukti Bhaban (office of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, CPB) in Paltan on fire. Windows of the five-storied CPB building were also smashed.
After an armoured vehicle of the police failed to move the Hifazat supporters, the law enforcers lobbed teargas shells at the Islamists, who took position near the north gate of Baitul Mukarram mosque.
Earlier, Chittagong-based Hifazat-e-Islam supporters burned down two motorcycles inside Baitul Mukarram mosque premises after being chased away by policemen from Paltan.
Police officials said they fired rubber bullets and lobbed teargas shells at Hifazat supporters when they started pelting the law-keepers with stones at Paltan.
The violence erupted after authorities had permitted the Hifazat to hold its scheduled 3pm rally at Shapla Chattar in Dhaka's busy Motijheel area earlier in the day. The clearance came amidst the Hifazat's Dhaka blockade that has effectively cut off the capital from most districts since early on Sunday.
A faction of Hifazat supporters at Motijheel’s Shapla Chattar since the morning moved out to Paltan around 11:30am, bdnews24.com Correspondents reported. Police dispersed them with teargas shells and by firing in the air.
Around 12:30am, those supporters broke through the police barricade in Dainik Bangla intersection and entered Paltan again.
Hifazat supporters dispersed and regrouped inside Baitul Mukarram premises,where they burnt two motorcycles inside.
The north gate of the national mosque faces Paltan.
Earlier on Feb 22, Islamist groups had burnt the ‘Jaynamaz’ inside the national mosque – Baitul Mukarram – after which authorities had barred entry to the mosque to protect its sanctity and security.
Earlier in the day, braving rain and brandishing sticks, Hifazat supporters took up position on several entry points to Dhaka to enforce their proposed blockade after Fazr prayers early on Sunday.
Sound systems on truck-based makeshift podiums were noticed by bdnews24.com correspondents at north Abdullahpur, Jatrabari, Babubazar Postgola, Narayanganj and Savar’s Aminbazar. Hifazat supporters had flocked around them to raise slogans.
Intense picketing at Jatrabari and Demra cut off Dhaka’s road links with Chittagong and Sylhet.
Even motorcycles have not been allowed to move at Jatrabari by Hifazat supporters’ position at Kajla area.
bdnews24.com correspondents Shahidul Islam and Sheikh Abdullah reported that police had set up barricades in the area and were asking Hifazat supporters to stay off them through loudspeakers.
Hifazat supporters were raising slogans in support of their 13-point charter of demands using loudspeakers mounted on trucks, the correspondents said.
Similar picketing in support of the blockade was noticed at Demra road, where Hifazat supporters were seen tearing down film posters. “Curbs on obscenity in films’ is one of Hifazat’s key demands.
Senior Correspondent Sumon Mahbub reports that Hifazat supporters with national flags lined up between Uttara North Tower and Tongi Bridge immediately after Fazr prayers, bringing vehicular traffic to a complete halt.
The Hifazat blockade was formally announced there from atop a pick-up van around 6:15am. Police and RAB personnel were not obstructing the Hifazat supporters.
bdnews24.com Correspondent Farhan Ferdous and Kazi Mobarak Hossain reported that Hifazat supporters gathered at Postgola Bridge after Fazr prayers, their numbers swelling to a few thousand as the day progressed.
Road links to Narayanganj and Mawa ferry terminal had been totally blocked, despite the presence of a huge police contingent in the area, they said.
Correspondent Kamal Talukder reports that about 50 Hifazat supporters set themselves up on the Babubazar bridge after Fazr prayers but their numbers rose to a thousand within an hour. They were now turning back vehicles from both sides of the bridge.
But at Nayabazar, police had set up barricades to prevent Hifazat supporters from reaching Dhaka. Armoured vans and water cannons were seen there.
At Aminbazar, police is said to be pulling down from vehicles those suspected to be Hifazat supporters, who had failed to gather in the area for picketing.
Gazipur correspondent reports that vehicular traffic has come to a halt on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway after Hifazat supporters, brandishing national flags and sticks, positioned themselves at Gazipur.
Meanwhile, due to the blockade, long-route bus services were grounded and very few private cars were seen plying the streets in the capital.
Few people were out on the streets as well.
Offices were running, but with closed shutters. But most of them were shut down around 11:00am after Hifazat was granted permission for the Motijheel rally.
On Friday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged the Hifazat to call off their Dhaka blockade plan, saying that many of their demands have been fulfilled or were being met.
But Hifazat Amir Ahmad Shafi rejected the Prime Minister’s contention as ‘empty promises’ and decided to go ahead with the Dhaka blockade.
Though many ruling alliance leaders have lambasted the Hifazat and even called it a ‘shadow’ of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Sheikh Hasina appears soft on the issues raised by the radical group.
The main opposition BNP has supported the Hifazat’s Dhaka blockade with Chairperson Khaleda Zia asking the government not to try to foil it.
But the Hifazat has run into stiff opposition from women groups who see as a threat to female empowerment ever since the radical group opposed the National Women policy and even demanded a ban on public mixing of sexes.
Leading women groups in the country had called for a rally on 27 April to protest against the Hifazat’s ‘anti-women’ postures but due to the Savar house collapse, the rally has been postponed to May 9.
Leftist groups say the Hifazat, if allowed a free run, will take the country backward from the road to social modernity.