Uneasy calm in Dhaka after Islamist clashes against women's rights

(dpa) - An uneasy calm prevailed in central Dhaka Saturday after two days of violent clashes between police and militant Islamists left more than 100 injured, officials and witnesses said.

Riot police and paramilitary border forces were deployed reinforcing security around the Baitul Mukarram mosque, the scene of overnight bloody battles.

The protesters were demanding the cancellation of a proposed national development policy for women, which allegedly gives equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters to parental property.

The critically injured in the fighting include several newsmen and a police officer who came under a hail of stones thrown by Islamic protesters.

Witnesses said street battles broke out Friday as police in armoured cars fired over 300 rounds of tear cells to disrupt rallies and chase protesters off the roads in central Dhaka.

In retaliation angry mobs torched police jeeps and motor bikes during the five hours of demonstration defying a state of emergency imposed by the army-backed government in January 2007 which bans protests and curbs democratic rights.

The escalating violence spread to the country's principal port city of Chittagong where hundreds of Islamic students were involved in attacking vehicles, shops and other businesses.

Islamic activists stormed a police station on the outskirts of the port city and ransacked the place before leaving the area.

The students of the local madrassas (Islamic schools) also set up barricades on the highway connecting the south-eastern commercial hub with the capital Dhaka.

"We will oppose any measure to improve the lot of women that goes against the injunctions of the holy Koran," said Mufti Fazlul Huq Amini who heads the biggest madrassa in the private sector.

In Dhaka protesters took shelter in the Baitul Mukarram mosque as police followed them swinging batons, witnesses said.

About 150 protesters were injured in the two days of clashes, prominent Islamic cleric Shaikul Hadith Allama Azizul Huq said claiming at least 25 people were arrested during the violence in Dhaka.

The protesters belonging to the committee for the prevention of anti-Koran laws in the South Asian country are accusing the interim authorities of trying to alter the inheritance rights of men and women to bring about gender equality, which they say is contrary to Islamic injunctions.

The government has denied any such provision in a proposed women's development policy which had been recently circulated to elicit public opinion.

Nearly 5,000 extra policemen were deployed in the congested squatter colonies in southern Dhaka and several sensitive installations in the normally bustling metropolis, deputy district administrator Nahid Ahmad said.

The demonstration prohibited under emergency rules was called by the Islamic clerics who are opposed to any change in the Muslim inheritance laws in Bangladesh, considered by many development analysts as biased against female inheritors.

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