Modi’s Visit to Bangladesh Sets Off Violent Protests



DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least four people were killed and dozens injured in violent protests in Bangladesh on Friday, set off by the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to mark 50 years since Bangladesh gained independence.

The deaths occurred in the southeastern district of Chattogram, where students from a prominent Islamic school and members of an Islamist group clashed with the police, officials said.

Alauddin Talukder, a police official, told reporters that five injured people had been taken to a Chattogram hospital and that four had died during treatment.

During Mr. Modi’s two-day visit, his first abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began, he will also commemorate the centennial of the birth of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangladeshi independence leader whose daughter, Sheikh Hasina, is now prime minister.

Ms. Hasina, who is seen by India as a key partner in maintaining regional stability, welcomed Mr. Modi at the airport on Friday morning.

Critics in India and elsewhere have accused Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party of stoking religious polarization in India and discriminating against minorities, particularly Muslims. In recent weeks, demonstrators in Muslim-majority Bangladesh have urged Mr. Modi not to visit and criticized Ms. Hasina for inviting him.

Bangladeshi news outlets reported on Friday that members of an Islamist group had attacked government buildings, including a police station, in the Hathazari area of Chattogram before the clashes that led to the deaths.

Violence also broke out at the Baitul Mokarram mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, as rival groups of demonstrators clashed. Police officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, injuring scores of people, officials and witnesses said.

Protesters also set fire to offices at a railway station in the eastern district of Brahmanbaria, disrupting communications.

Outside the Baitul Mokarram mosque, hundreds of protesters had gathered by Friday afternoon. Witnesses said the clashes started after one faction of protesters began waving their shoes in a sign of contempt for Mr. Modi, and another group tried to stop them.

Local news outlets said the protesters who tried to stop the shoe-waving were aligned with Ms. Hasina’s governing Awami League party. TV broadcasts showed some protesters throwing stones at the police, who had been maintaining a heavy presence near the mosque. One channel reported that at least 40 people were injured in the clashes, including some journalists.

Abdul Mazid, a businessman, said he was trapped in the mosque after trying to flee when violence erupted during prayers. “I had a feeling that something was going to happen. I am still inside the mosque,” he said by telephone. “There is huge violence, I can see from here.”

After Mr. Modi’s arrival, Ms. Hasina told an audience in a parade square in Dhaka that Bangladesh’s relations with India had reached a new high. “If we move forward hand in hand, the development of our people is inevitable,” she said.

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

With an eye toward galvanizing Hindu support in that battleground state, Mr. Modi is scheduled to visit a Hindu temple outside Dhaka that is sacred to the Matua community in West Bengal. The Matua sect’s vote could decide at least seven seats in a close race for control of the state assembly.

In a tweet late Thursday before his trip, Mr. Modi said the two countries shared a vital relationship.

“Our partnership with Bangladesh is an important pillar of our Neighborhood First policy, and we are committed to further deepen and diversify it. We will continue to support Bangladesh’s remarkable development journey, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s dynamic leadership,” he said.


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