Police in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka today stopped thousands of Islamists from marching to the border with Myanmar to protest at a crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority in that country. The military campaign in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine has sent 27,000 Rohingya fleeing into Bangladesh, with survivors recounting horrific stories of mass murder, gang rape and torture at the hands of troops.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long discriminated against the stateless Rohingya and the recent crisis has galvanised protests in Muslim countries around the region.
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Thousands of Muslims belonging to the Islami Andolan Bangladesh party gathered in front of Dhaka’s Baitul Mukarram national mosque, chanting slogans and carrying placards denouncing Myanmar’s Nobel laureate and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Local police chief Rafiqul Islam told AFP that at least 6,000 people had arrived for the march towards the southeastern border.
“But it came to a halt as we mutually discussed the march would hamper public life,” he said.
Party officials however accused the police of “forcefully” stopping and arresting them.
“They (police) stopped our activists and randomly arrested many of us. We strongly condemn such actions of the administration,” party spokesman Atiqur Rahman said.
In the past two months Bangladesh has stepped up patrols and border guards have prevented hundreds of boats packed with Rohingya refugees from entering the country.
The Bangladesh government has come under pressure from Muslim groups and the opposition to open its border to the fleeing Rohingya.
More than 230,000 Rohingya are already living in Bangladesh, most of them illegally, although around 32,000 are formally registered as refugees.