Thousands rally against Macron in Bangladesh over cartoon controversy

Dhaka, Nov 2 (efe-epa)- Thousands of supporters of hard-line Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam on Monday demonstrated in Dhaka in the largest protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s supposedly anti-Islam remarks in defending the allegedly blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.

Protesters gathered at the northern gate of the capital’s Baitul Mukarram national mosque around 10.30 am and marched towards the French embassy before being stopped by the police.

“We demanded that the Bangladesh government cut diplomatic ties with France and the parliament pass a motion condemning comments of the French president. We also urged people to boycott French product unless he apologizes,” Fakhrul Islam, a spokesperson of Hefazat, told EFE.

Macron’s defense of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad has triggered a wave of condemnation in parts of the Muslim world in recent days. Images of the Prophet are considered offensive by Muslims.

In Monday’s rally, the protesters were carrying placards with slogans such as “Boycott France,” “Continue anti-France Protests,” “Stop Islamophobia,” ‘I love Muhammad” and “Freedom of speech is not freedom to abuse.”

“The protests ended peacefully. No untoward incident happened,” Zahidul Islam, assistant commissioner of Dhaka metropolitan police, told EFE, adding that an estimated 35,000 people attended the demonstration.

The figure makes it the largest in a string of protests on the issue staged by Islamists in the country since last week.

Protests had erupted in Bangladesh on Oct. 27 when police foiled an attempt to besiege the French embassy in Dhaka.

Several Islamists parties, including Hefazat, had also held protests on Friday in Dhaka as well as the southern city of Chittagong.

Hefazat first hit the headline first in 2013 when thousands of its supporters attended a rally in the capital demanding criminal prosecution of atheists and the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy among other demands.

The rally, which was largely seen as anti-government, came just a few months before the 2014 national elections and ended up in bloodshed with police forcefully evicting the group from Dhaka’s main commercial hub.

Two days of ensuing violence killed at least 58 people, including seven members of security forces, according to rights group Human Rights Watch.

The group, which describes itself as a non-political collective of religious bodies, also forced Bangladeshi authorities to remove the statue of the Greek goddess of justice Themis from the Supreme Court complex in Dhaka in 2017, condemning it as un-Islamic. EFE-EPA


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