High alert in Bangladesh as thousands celebrate Bengali New Year

Other News Materials 14 April 2008 13:49 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Hundreds of thousands of people thronged the national park in the capital Dhaka Monday welcoming the sunrise that marked the advent of the Bengali new year, officials and witnesses said.

Women in saris and flowers danced under a sprawling banyan tree in the Ramna central park as part of the festivities ushering in the new Bengali year 1415.

Law enforcement agencies were kept on a state of high alert during the carnival on the first day of Baishakh the opening month in the Bengali calendar.

A street march by students wearing masks highlighted the ceremonies dubbed by the country's Muslim clerics as anti-Islamic.

Suspected Islamic activists were held responsible for a deadly bomb attack inside the park during similar Bengali celebrations in 2001.

The attack left seven people dead and several more injured among the spectators.

The interim government beefed up security around the park deploying about a thousand policemen and commandos. Close circuit television cameras and sniffing dogs were used at the main venue of the new year's show.

"The deployment of forces in Dhaka and in other cities was determined after analyzing all probable threats to security and the presence of huge crowds," said Hasan Mahmud Khandakar, chief of the special Rapid Action Battalion.

Sources said nearly 12,000 security men were mobilized for deployment across the country.

Islamic militants want the moderate Muslim country to ban the ceremonies, calling them pagan rituals.