By Mohammad Ponir Hossain
DHAKA – Thousands of members of Bangladesh’s ruling party rallied on Tuesday in support of the nation’s besieged minority Hindus after one of the worst bouts of communal violence in the Muslim-majority nation for over a decade.
The wave of clashes left at least six people dead and dozens of homes destroyed, according to local media.
Police said 450 people had been arrested.
The attacks began on Friday when hundreds of Muslims protested in the southeastern Noakhali district accusing Hindus of a blasphemous incident involving the Koran. Several Hindu religious sites have been vandalised, and homes attacked.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party held a rally in the capital Dhaka, with thousands marching along a 4 km route in the heart of the city, calling for a halt to the violence.
“Stop this communal evil, Bangladesh,” read one banner held by women supporters.
Elsewhere in Dhaka, several hundred writers gathered, holding up handwritten messages and small posters.
“Teach your children to love, not to kill,” one said.
Awami League lawmaker and joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said party workers planned a series of rallies across the country over the next two weeks.
“The panic has to be removed,” Hanif told Reuters.
Hindus make up around 10% of Bangladesh’s nearly 170 million people.
Authorities have filed 71 cases in connection with the violence during the Hindu festival of Durga Puja, a Bangladesh police spokesman said.
Communal tensions have long simmered in Bangladesh, whose constitution designates Islam as the state religion but also upholds the principle of secularism.
“Recent attacks on Hindus of Bangladesh, fuelled by hate speech on social media, are against the values of the Constitution and need to stop,” tweeted Mia Seppo, the United Nations’ resident coordinator.
Rights group Amnesty International called for an investigation and punishment for perpetrators.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Andrew Cawthorne)