Vol. 5 Num 860 Sun. October 29, 2006  
Front Page

Downtown Dhaka turns into battlefield

Downtown Dhaka turned into a fierce battlefield yesterday with thousands of AL workers clashing with Jamaat supporters at Paltan for seven hours and with police at Bangabandhu Avenue and Golapshah Mazar that left at least five killed.

The dead are Monir Hossain, 30, an AL activist also a garment factory employee, Russell Ahmed Khan, 35, Khilgaon thana joint secretary of Jubo Moitri, Mohammad Mujahid, 20, an Islami Chhatra Shibir activist, Jasim Uddin, 24, a Shibir activist of ward no 67 in the city, and two others whose identities could not be known immediately.

AL workers beat to death at least two Jamaat workers with oars and sticks they were carrying. But Jamaat hit back with firearms, firing at least a hundred rounds, killing at least one AL man. The police remained a silent spectator to the mayhem.

The downtown streets turned into a horror place with bricks flying at every direction, shops and establishments vandalized and tyres and furniture burning, billowing black smokes that canopied the city sky.

The first of the clashes started at Paltan at 11.30am where the Jamaat workers had blocked the whole stretch of the street in front of the Baitul Mokarram mosque, a traditional bastion of Jamaat. A 14-party rally passing by the Jamaat gathering suddenly started throwing bricks and sticks at the Jamaat workers yelling slogans like "catch the Razakars (collaborators)".

Caught unawares, the Jamaat first retreated to the mosque gate. But one of their workers were caught by the attackers who beat him to death.

Within minutes, the Jamaat regrouped and launched a counter attack, chasing the AL men back. Stones and bricks started flying in both directions. Jamaat men set afire some tyres and wooden benches to create a thick smoke screen.

As thousands of AL workers started assembling, the Jamaat workers opened repeat shots from firearms, leaving at least five AL men critically wounded. The agitated AL workers damaged hundreds of shops and offices by the Bijoynagar road.

After a few minutes of lull, the two groups started their chase and counter-chase and the place bore much semblance to the Rwandan scene of Hutus and Tutsis going for each other's throats. One group charged into the other with blood curdling war cries, the other group ran in wild panic. But not all of them could sprint to safety and a few always stumbled to the ground. The fallen is immediately grabbed and taken inside the party bastion and beaten to meatballs.

The Jamaat men were seen producing pistols and long-barreled guns from under their flowing Panjabi and firing quick shots at the AL workers. AL men were buzzing around most with sticks and some with long swords. At around 1:00pm, an AL worker was whisked away with a bullet wound in his chest. The man -- many identified him as Faruk -- gasped for breath.

At around 2:00pm, an AL supporter dropped to the ground with half his skull blown away by a single bullet. The man writhed slowly and winked aimlessly as he was being hand-carted. A few minutes later, he died.

The AL men immediately chased and caught a Jamaat man and started beating him with wooden oars. For half an hour, the thrashing continued. As everybody thought he was dead, the man in white panjabi now smeared with blood unsteadily got up on his feet and staggered across the road. The oars fell in rhythm on his head and face, but he had vowed not to fall down again to certain death.

Finally, a policeman took the initiative to save the Jamaat man. The cop grabbed his hands to steady him and quickly pulled him before the Paltan police box. The enraged policemen still attempted to hit the man whose half the skull was gone and who was bleeding profusely.

Then an AL man was carried through the crowd with his head and face drenched in blood. The man tried to keep his head high and was too dazed to know what he was doing. His head bobbed almost independent of his nervous system.

At around 2.15pm, some AL leaders were seen urging the policemen to take action against the Jamaat. They were exchanging heated words with the police officers. But the cops just gave them a dead fish's look, as if they were there holidaying.

As the noon turned high, the party men were too tired to continue and the intensity of the clash died down. After about two hours' rest, at around 5:00pm, a number of big bombs were blasted close to the Jamaat bastion as Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami was at the tail end of his speech. Immediately hell broke loose as bullets were fired indiscriminately from Jamaat position. It took the AL a few minutes to reorganise and fire back.

AL leaders on a truck parked near Muktangan asked its supporters over loudspeakers not to retreat in the face of Jamaat attack and to retaliate with firearms. A little later, three AL supporters were rescued from the melee with a bullet in the head.

Probably tired of the attacks and counter attacks that produced no clear victor, police finally stepped in and took position between the two feuding factions. As the dusk approached, both sides called it a day and walked away.

The clashes between AL activists and police began when the activists tried to take control of Paltna Maidan defying a police ban on holding rallies there. The clashes began in the morning and continued for about five hours.

Although AL men took control of Paltan Maidan to hold their prescheduled rally, police drove them away at about 3:00am yesterday which angered the AL activists.

Hundreds of AL activists with sticks, oars and brickbats yesterday morning gathered around Paltan area to break through the barbed wire police barricade, sparking battles with the law enforcers.

As police barred a procession trying to enter the area, the activists ransacked a police van in front of Bhasani Hockey Stadium at about 11:45am, triggering chase and counter chase between themselves and the law enforcers.

Smaller battles then spread to adjacent areas of Paltan and continued for three hours leaving more than 50 injured including seven journalists.

The policemen also got locked in altercation with journalists who they had assaulted and later apologised to.

Thousands of AL activists from Manikganj, Kamrangir Char and different parts of the city then reached Paltan to attend the rally. The sheer show of manpower inspired the activists and compelled the police to retreat.

The clash then spread to different places including the area surrounding Mayor Bhaban, Nababpur, and Golap Shah Mazar which continued simultaneously for two hours.

Police fired rubber bullets and teargas shells to disperse the AL activists, leaving many innocent pedestrians and bystanders injured also.

AL activists took control of Demra area and Dhaka-Chittagong highway on Friday evening and continued blocking the highway for 36 hours at a stretch yesterday.

BNP activists tried to recapture the area yesterday noon by bringing out a procession there but AL activists chased them away leaving several injured.

Two army vehicles were seen patrolling Sayedabad area yesterday, which calmed down the fighting activists for some time.

Operatives of both the parties again locked in a face to face battle, but AL leaders stopped their followers and took them towards Bangabandhu Avenue to attend the rally at Paltan.

Clashes between AL and BNP activists left 70 people injured including three journalists in Keraniganj area yesterday, 25 BNP offices were also ransacked there.

Supporters of 14-party combine and Jamaat-e-Islami hurl brickbats at each other during a Jamaat rally near Paltan intersection in the city yesterday. PHOTO: STAR