At least four people have been killed and scores injured in violent protests set off by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s arrival in Bangladesh to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence.
The casualties happened after students from a prominent madrasa or Islamic school and members of an Islamist group clashed with police in the south-eastern district of Chattogram.
Alauddin Talukder, a police official at Chattogram Medical College Hospital, told reporters that five people with injuries were taken to the hospital and four died during treatment.
Local media reported that members of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, which has a network of Islamic schools, attacked government buildings, including a police station and a land office, in Hathazari, Chattogram, before police took action.
At Dhaka’s main mosque, clashes broke out between groups of demonstrators, and police dispersed the crowd by using tear gas and rubber bullets — injuring scores of people, officials and witnesses said.
Mr Modi’s two-day visit, his first abroad since the coronavirus pandemic began, will include commemorating 100 years since the birth of Bangladeshi independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of current prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
Ms Hasina, a key partner for India in maintaining regional stability, welcomed Mr Modi at the airport on Friday morning.
Critics accuse his Hindu-nationalist party of stoking religious polarisation in India and discriminating against minorities, particularly Muslims.
In recent weeks, demonstrators in Bangladesh have urged the Indian leader not to visit and chanted anti-India and anti-Modi slogans. They also have criticised Ms Hasina for inviting him.
Outside the Baitul Mokarram mosque, hundreds of protesters had gathered by the afternoon. Witnesses said clashes started after one faction began waving their shoes as a sign of disrespect to Mr Modi, and another group tried to stop them.
Local media said the protesters who tried to stop the shoe-waving are aligned with the ruling Awami League party, which criticised the other faction for attempting to create chaos during Mr Modi’s visit.
Local TV showed protesters throwing stones at police, who were heavily present on the streets near the mosque. Somoy TV reported that at least 40 people were injured, including journalists, and were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital for treatment.
A police official said members of several Islamist groups had joined the protests, but it was not immediately clear which groups they were representing.
After Mr Modi’s arrival, Ms Hasina told an audience in a parade square in Dhaka that Bangladesh’s relations with India have reached a new high, adding: “If we move forward hand in hand, the development of our people is inevitable.”
While Mr Modi’s trip is mainly focused on Bangladesh’s anniversary celebrations, the visit also has a political agenda at home, as voting begins on Saturday in several state-level elections, including West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh.