At Least 10 Killed in Protests Against Modi’s Visit to Bangladesh



DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least 10 people were killed and dozens injured in protests against a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to Bangladesh as part of celebrations for the country’s 50th anniversary.

Clashes between protesters and security forces began Friday after weekly prayers in three cities — Dhaka, the capital; Brahammanbaria, near the Indian border; and the coastal city of Chattogram.

An Islamist group called Hefazat-e-Islam led street processions denouncing Mr. Modi. On Friday, four people were killed in Chattogram and one person was killed in Brahammanbaria, where hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the Baitul Mokarram mosque. The clashes began there after one group of protesters began waving their shoes in a sign of contempt for Mr. Modi, according to local television news reports.

One channel reported that at least 40 people had been injured in the clashes, including some journalists.

Violence continued into Saturday afternoon in Brahammanbaria, resulting in five more deaths, according to Bangladeshi media. When the protest march turned violent, security forces opened fire to disperse the crowds, several newspapers reported.

A full accounting of the deaths had not been made public by Saturday evening, and police officials reached by The New York Times declined to comment.

The Islamist group has called for a nationwide shutdown on Sunday to protest the killings. Internet services were slower than usual on Saturday, with officials apparently trying to disrupt plans for the shutdown.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s first leader, lauded Mr. Modi as a key ally in her decades-long mission to deliver millions out of poverty.

“If we move forward hand in hand, the development of our people is inevitable,” she said.

But some of Mr. Modi’s policies — particularly laws that make it easier to expel Bangladeshi and Muslim migrants from India — could make such a partnership more difficult.

At a press briefing Saturday, Mamunul Haque, a senior leader for Hefajat-e-Islami, said that a shutdown had been called to protest the deaths of those demonstrating against Mr. Modi’s visit to Bangladesh.

“We want to make this clear,” Mr. Mamunul said, “our movement is not against the government, our movement is against atheists and apostates.”

Conservative Islamic views have been gaining ground in Bangladesh, a secular democracy that is more than 90 percent Muslim. Anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiment has been used to challenge Ms. Hasina’s party, the Awami League, since the country was founded after a bloody war for independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Under Ms. Hasina, who has been in power on and off since 1996, and is serving a fourth consecutive term, Bangladesh has come to be seen as somewhat of an economic miracle, regularly posting 8 percent annual growth. Its ready-made garment industry is considered second only to China’s. And the country of 160 million has risen steadily up the United Nations Human Development Index.

Bangladesh’s success story, however, has a dark underbelly: accusations of deep corruption and the stifling of dissent in the increasingly authoritarian government of a country that has been prone to coups and political violence.

While Mr. Modi’s trip is mainly focused on Bangladesh’s anniversary celebrations, the visit also has political implications in India, where voting began Saturday in several state-level elections, including West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh.

Mr. Modi visited a Hindu temple outside Dhaka that is sacred to the Matua community in West Bengal, hoping to draw critical votes in that state.

In a series of tweets late Saturday after returning to New Delhi, Mr. Modi said he and Ms. Hasina had discussed how to deepen their relationship.

“I would like to thank the people of Bangladesh for their affection during my visit,” Mr. Modi wrote. “I am sure this visit will lead to further strengthening of bilateral ties between our nations.”

Mr. Modi made no mention of the violence and deaths.

Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka and Emily Schmall reported from New Delhi.


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