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DHAKA: Hundreds of demonstrators returned to the streets of Dhaka on Saturday, a day after five people were killed during violent clashes with police during protests against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh.

Protests began on Friday in the capital and spread to other districts in the country, with a hard-line Islamist group saying that more demonstrations were planned for Sunday.

“We have called a nationwide protest on Saturday and a one-day strike on Sunday. Our protest is not against the Bangladesh government,” Gazi Yakub, spokesperson for Hefazat-e-Islam, a madrassa-based organization, told Arab News on Saturday.

“During our liberation war, Modi’s BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) was not in the Indian government. We could have invited anyone from that party who actively helped us in freedom fighting,” he added.

Modi began his two-day visit to the country on Friday to take part in the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence and the birth centenary of its first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of current Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina.

Responding to calls for nationwide strikes over Modi’s visit, Shammi Ahmed, international affairs secretary for the ruling Awami League party, said that the demonstrations were the act of “evil forces.”

“The protesters don’t have any support from most people. The evil forces are creating anarchy to tarnish the country’s image globally,” she told Arab News on Saturday.

“India is our closest neighbor and a very good friend of Bangladesh. Around 10 million Bangladeshis took shelter in India during our liberation war,” Ahmed said, referring to the struggle that led to the formation of Bangladesh in 1971.

“So, it’s our immense pleasure to have the Indian prime minister on this auspicious occasion. It’s a matter of relations between two friendly states,” she added. 

During his speech to mark Bangladesh’s independence day on Friday, Modi said that India and Bangladesh had a shared heritage before stressing the need for unity between the neighbors to achieve “common goals” and fight against “similar threats” such as terrorism.

“India and Bangladesh moving forward together is equally important for the development of the entire region. We need to further boost our efforts, add new dimensions to them, and take them to new heights,” he said.

Hasina said that if the two countries moved forward “hand in hand,” the development of the region was “inevitable.”

“India is not only our next-door neighbor, we have a historical, social, cultural, heritage and geographical rapport with this country. Our relations with India have escalated to new heights,” she said during the closing ceremony to mark the end of 10 days of the golden jubilee celebrations.

Hasina said that Modi’s presence had “glorified” the event and that Bangladesh would always “respect” India’s contribution to its liberation war.

On Saturday, the two prime ministers met for bilateral talks and were expected to sign several deals and MoUs in disaster management, trade and oceanography, according to Bangladesh foreign ministry officials.

Meanwhile, Facebook and its instant messaging app, Facebook Messenger, were blocked across the country on Saturday.

However, Telecommunication Minister Mustafa Jabbar denied that his ministry had taken any “official steps” to restrict social media sites.

“We didn’t restrict any social media like Facebook or Messenger. If something happened, it was done by the law enforcement agencies in a bid to control the law and order situation,” Jabbar told Arab News on Saturday.

“The protesters used Facebook live options during the clashes with the police. So, the law enforcing agencies might have enforced some restrictions on Facebook services,” he added.

This was the second time that the social media giant had its services restricted in the country.

In November 2015, citing security reasons, Bangladesh blocked several social media sites, including Facebook, for more than three weeks.

According to data provided by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, there are 104 million mobile Internet users out of a population of around 168 million.



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