They had gathered there to raise their voices against blasts only to fall victim to the most gruesome terrorist attack in the history of Bangladesh.
Around 25,000 leaders and activists of the then main opposition Awami League had turned up at the party central office on Bangabandhu Avenue on that black Saturday to protest against a series of blasts in Sylhet that had killed several people.
AL chief Sheikh Hasina joined the rally on August 21, 2004, injecting vigour among party activists aggrieved by the killing of their comrades across the country, including lawmaker Ahsanullah Master earlier in May.
But it was beyond their worst nightmare that they themselves would come under an appalling attack on a political programme, which was organised to protest such acts of violence, and lose two dozen colleagues.
It was 5:22pm, that fateful moment, when a wave of grenades were hurled at the rally of Hasina, then leader of the opposition, with an aim to kill her apparently for her stance against religious extremism, which had mushroomed allegedly under the patronisation of the then BNP-Jamaat government.
Militants of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Huji), with alleged links to several serving ministers and officials of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and top BNP-Jamaat leaders, carried out the attack as Hasina began to wrap up the rally with a call to end the rule of the government that “inspired” bomb attacks.
The AL central leaders were still on the truck with Hasina when at least 13 grenades exploded around them.
As the grenades rained down from the top of nearby buildings, Hasina ducked and scores of supporters created a shield around her, demonstrating the highest loyalty one could display to leaders at a crucial time. The grenades missed the truck and landed on either side of it.
Hasina was then huddled into a sports utility vehicle, as her security personnel fired blank shots to ensure her quick exit from the scene, and wheeled away through thick smoke under police escort.
The assailants fired seven bullets at the bulletproof SUV that Sheikh Hasina had boarded immediately after the blasts. A bullet also punctured the rear wheel of the vehicle and there was a large hole on the rear right side of its window shield.
Hasina narrowly escaped with ear injuries, but at least 16 people were killed on the very day and 300, including top AL leaders Abdur Razzak, Amir Hossain Amu, Suranjit Sengupta, Ivy Rahman and Kazi Zafarullah, were injured critically.
The injured leaders and activists collapsed on the street bleeding, some of them profusely. Within moments, the scene turned ghastly scene, with disjointed limbs and blood littered and smeared all over the place. Individuals, bruised and bloodied, lay groaning and screaming for help. But nobody dared to come to their rescue.
After some time, a few people gathered on the spot but they were too shocked to swing into action and had little idea about what to do. Some supporters then brought in microbuses, rickshaw vans and minibuses and picked up the injured leaders and workers.
The injured were rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the largest and nearest hospital, which had to arrange beds on the floor. Many of the injured had to move to other hospitals as DMCH could not accommodate them.
The capital city of around ten million people had swiftly turned into a city of tears, protests, chaos, fear and confusion. Some wept as they stood beside the injured, some torched vehicles in protest and some tried to pick their way out of the clouds of smoke and dust.
The deadly attack sent shock waves throughout the country, generating instant, widespread outpouring of grief, condemnation and protests.
Ivy Rahman and seven others succumbed to their injuries later.
Dozens have been maimed for life, with many passing their days with splinters still inside their bodies even after long treatment at home and abroad.
One of the victims is Mahbuba Parvin, who escaped death but not the hundreds of splinters that penetrated her body. Despite taking treatment, she still carries 1,800 splinters in her.
"It pains all the time. It would have been better if I were killed that day," she told The Daily Star.