Protesters in Bangladesh rally against atheist bloggers

Updated 07 April 2013
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Protesters in Bangladesh rally against atheist bloggers

DHAKA: Hundreds of thousands of Jamaat-e-Islami supporters rallied in Dhaka yesterday after staging a “long march” to the Bangladeshi capital to demand the execution of atheist bloggers for allegedly defaming Islam.
It was the latest protest to rack Bangladesh, deepening tensions between secularists and the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders are under trial for crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence.
The radical group converged on Dhaka’s main commercial hub to protest against what they said were blasphemous writings by atheist bloggers, shouting “God is great — hang the atheist bloggers.”
They defied a pro-government national strike by secular protesters — who staged a smaller rival protest in Dhaka yesterday — aimed at foiling the radical’s group march.
“Around 200,000 people attended the rally,” Dhaka’s deputy police commissioner Sheikh Nazmul Alam said, while protest organizers put the number at over half a million.
Authorities said, meanwhile, two activists of the ruling secular Awami League had died in the last 24 hours in clashes with Jamaat-e-Islami demonstrators, bringing to 96 the number killed in violence linked to the war crimes trials.
Protest organizers called yesterday’s rally the “long march.” Many began traveling by foot on Friday from remote villages to Dhaka’s Motijheel area that became a sea of white skull caps and robes.
“I’ve come here to fight for Islam. We won’t allow any bloggers to blaspheme our religion and our beloved Prophet Muhammad,” said Shahidul Islam, an imam at a mosque outside Dhaka who walked 20 km.
Hefajat-e-Islam, another group supported by tens of thousands of seminaries, organized the rally in support of its 13-point demand that included enactment of a blasphemy law to execute atheist bloggers.
There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh’s social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered.
Earlier in the week, four online writers were arrested on charges of hurting Islamic religious sentiments in a country where 90 percent of people are Muslims.
Following recent protests over the war crimes tribunal, the government has blocked a dozen websites and blogs to stem the unrest. It has also set up a panel, which includes intelligence chiefs, to monitor blasphemy on social media.
Under the country’s cyber laws, a blogger or Internet writer can face up to ten years in jail for defaming a religion.
Dhaka was virtually cut off from the rest of the country from Friday afternoon when secularists called a 22-hour nationwide strike to obstruct the march and private transport operators halted services fearing violence.
Islamists who could not take part in the march staged rallies in cities and towns across the country, with some 7,000 taking part in a protest in the port city of Chittagong, local police officer Nazrul Islam said.
Two Jamaat leaders have already been convicted by the tribunal, which critics accuse of fabricating charges as part of a government bid to settle political scores, rather than to deliver justice.


South Sudan foes in new peace talks to end deadly war

Updated 25 June 2018
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South Sudan foes in new peace talks to end deadly war

  • A first round brokered by Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on Thursday failed to achieve any breakthrough
  • The war has killed tens of thousands of people and driven about four million others from their homes

KHARTOUM: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and arch-foe Riek Machar were set to hold a new round of peace talks Monday after a first meeting last week faltered.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is hosting in Khartoum the second round of talks between the two bitter rivals, aimed at ending South Sudan’s four-and-a-half year brutal civil war.
A first round brokered by Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on Thursday failed to achieve any breakthrough.
Regional East African leaders have launched new efforts to secure peace in South Sudan where warring factions face a looming deadline to avert UN sanctions.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and driven about four million others from their homes.
It erupted after Kiir fell out with his then deputy Machar in December 2013, dashing the optimism that accompanied independence of South Sudan just two years earlier from Sudan.
“In this round of talks we are looking for a breakthrough to this thorny issue,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed told reporters on Sunday.
Kiir and Machar’s meeting in Addis Ababa was their first face-to-face encounter in nearly two years.
Their meeting in Khartoum will be the first since fighting erupted in South Sudan.
It comes after South Sudan’s government declared that it “had enough” of Machar, dashing hopes of any breakthrough at the Addis Ababa talks.
“As the people of South Sudan, not the president alone, but as the people of South Sudan, we are saying enough is enough,” South Sudanese government spokesman Michael Makuei said Friday.
Makuei rejected Machar’s presence in any transitional government but did not rule out the involvement of other rebel figures.
His remarks show the personal enmity between Kiir and Machar, that lies at the heart of the conflict, is as strong as ever.
Before the start of talks in Ethiopia, Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group had also dismissed the latest peace efforts as “unrealistic.”
South Sudan descended into civil war after Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup against him, sparking violence between the two factions that was fueled by brooding ethnic tensions.
Since a 2015 peace deal collapsed in July 2016 with Machar fleeing to South Africa, Kiir’s government has gained the upper hand militarily as the opposition has splintered into a myriad of factions.
Initially largely fought out between South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups — Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer — smaller groups have since spawned their own militias raising question marks about the ability of either leader to halt the war.
In May, the UN Security Council gave the two warring sides a month to reach a peace deal or face sanctions.
A landlocked state with a large ethnic mix, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.