02/26/2013, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Thousands of people rally against Islamic party and the political use of religion

by Sumon Francis Gomes
People of different origins and social backgrounds rally together, reading passages from the sacred texts of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Meanwhile, Jamaat-e-Islami supporters continue their rampage, accusing peaceful demonstrators of blasphemy.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Thousands of people of different age, faith, profession and ethnic background joined in protest against the political use of religion. They recited passages from the sacred texts of the country's great religions-namely the Qur'an (Islam), the Bible (Christianity), Gita (Hinduism) and Tripitaka (Buddhism) -and sang the national anthem to affirm, "Religion is personal, the state is for all".

The rally took place on 21 February on the initiative of Gonojagoron Mancha, a peace group that has been demonstrating for weeks demanding justice against those responsible for war crimes in the Jamaat-e-Islami, an opposition Islamic party. Protesters also want the party's youth wing barred. However, this has not stopped Jamaat supporters from carrying out acts of violence that left four people dead. They accuse anti-Jamaat protesters of blasphemy.

"Our protest is not against religion," said Imran Sarker, main organiser of the rally. "On the contrary, our fight is to end the sickening politics of Jamaat-Shibir, which uses religion for political purposes." The latter is Jamaat-e-Islami youth wing.

For its part, the Islamist party continues its actions, organising strikes (hartal) that end up in vandalism, hooliganism and violence against police and peaceful protesters.

Jamaat supporters have escalated their violent action after parliament, which is controlled by the Awami League, adopted changes to the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act of 1973.

Now the authorities can impose the death penalty on anyone convicted of war crimes dating back to 1971. They could also bar Jamaat-e-Islami, which has been blamed for torture, summary executions and rape.

Four people have died in one of the latest incidents caused by supporters of the Islamist party last Friday. Journalists, intellectuals and police were also attacked on that occasion.

Gonojagoron Mancha activists have also been regularly targeted in Chittagong, Feni, Chandpur, Rajshahi, Bogra, Sirajganj, Joypurat, Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Pabna. In many incidents, Jamaat supporters have burnt Bangladeshi flags.

On 21 February, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, spoke about the rising tensions in the country. "Bangladesh will be a non-communal social system," she said. The "the rights of all religions to be ensured" and "everyone will live here enjoying equal rights".

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