Bangladesh: Four die after police open fire on anti-Modi protests on independence day

·3-min read

Violence marred a visit by India's prime minister to Bangladesh, as the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence.

Narendra Modi is on a two-day visit to the country for the culmination of the 10-day golden jubilee celebrations, attended by five heads of state, with many other international leaders in virtual attendance.

The festivities also coincide with the birth centenary of father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Mr Modi was received at the airport by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

But at least four people were killed after police fired on protesters demonstrating against the Indian prime minister's visit.

Officials said they opened fire after protesters attacked a police station in Chittagong.

Dozens were also hurt in the capital Dhaka on Thursday where police used rubber bullets and teargas in clashes with crowds, witnesses said.

The protestors were criticising the government for inviting the Hindu nationalist leader, blaming him for stoking religious tensions and inciting anti-Muslim violence.

Police official Syed Nurul told AFP: "We fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them. There were 200 protesters. We have arrested 33 people for violence".

This is the first foreign visit the Indian prime minister has undertaken since the pandemic.

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to which Mr Modi belongs, in the past described Bangladeshis as infiltrators.

In an election campaign Amit Shah, the closest aide to the prime minster, has referred to illegal migrants "as infiltrators that have eaten the country like termites".

The reference did not go down well, though the Bangladeshi leadership has exercised remarkable restraint in responding to the charges.

It has taken much effort and time to restore the good relationship between the two countries.

Mr Modi's government has also implemented the National Register of Citizens Act in Assam state, which borders Bangladesh.

The act documents all illegal immigrants, targeting many from the minority community who would eventually be deported.

In an attempt to appease his critics, Mr Modi said he identified with the battle for self-determination in Bangladesh in a speech on Friday.

He said: "The freedom struggle of Bangladesh was a significant moment in my journey too... My colleagues and I had done a satyagraha (passive political resistance) in India... I was in my early twenties. I even had the opportunity to go to jail during this satyagraha for Bangladesh's struggle for freedom."

Analysis: A long and bloody battle for independence

Neville Lazarus, India reporter and producer

India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistan was created in two parts, West Pakistan which is present-day Pakistan and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

Even though it had a larger population and more seats in parliament, East Pakistan was dominated by the West.

In the 1970 Pakistan National Assembly elections, the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged as the single largest party and in theory should have formed the government.

The military under General Yahya Khan stalled the transfer of power and arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and transferred him to West Pakistan.

The Pakistan military then launched a crackdown called 'Operation Searchlight' to eliminate all opposition be it political, military, civil society, religious leaders and students.

A nine-month bloody conflict took place in which an estimated three million people were killed.

More than 10 million fled to India as refugees while 30 million were displaced internally.

India's intervention with military and personnel on the side of Bengali nationalists helped Bangladesh gain independence.

On 16 December 1971 the Pakistan military surrendered to the joint liberation forces of the Indian Army and the Bengali fighters. Over 93,000 Pakistan personnel were taken prisoners of war and Bangladesh gained independence.