Brandishing handguns, Chhatra League cadres attack the students demonstrating against fee hike and evening shift on Rajshahi University campus yesterday. Photo: Star
Around 100 students of Rajshahi University and eight journalists were wounded yesterday, as armed Chhatra League men backed by police attacked the students protesting fee hikes and evening shift master's courses.
The authorities last night closed the university for an indefinite period and ordered the resident students to vacate halls by 8:00am today.
Of the injured, 27 were hit by bullets during sporadic clashes that turned the campus into a battlefield. All the injured, some of them female students, were admitted to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital.
The wounded journalists are Najim Mridha of New Age, Golam Rabbani of Maasranga TV, Ali Ramjan of daily Janakantha, Zakir Hossain of Shirsha News, Sajib Uddin of Flash News, Bulbul Ahmed of Manab Kantha and photojournalists Shams Rumi of Sonar Desh and Gulbar Ali Jewel of Natun Probhat.
Those under attack take cover at the entrance of a building. Photo: Star
The demonstrators alleged the RU authorities hired the BCL men to thwart the movement by general students, which continued for the third consecutive day yesterday.
It was the first campus violence since the AL-led government took office for a second term in a row following the January 5 election.
The general students first began their protests on January 16, after the RU authorities in December decided to increase various fees from this month.
They also demand the authorities stop the seven evening shift master's courses introduced last month and two other similar programmes introduced in 2010. They allege that such programmes are rife with irregularities, and teachers sometimes suspend the regular classes to attend the evening shifts.
The protest gained momentum on Thursday as the students enforced a strike. This prompted the authorities to put on hold on Saturday the decision to hike fees, but this failed to calm the students who continued their agitation, demanding cancellation of the decisions altogether.
Around 12:00noon yesterday, leaders and activists of the BCL, a pro-AL student body, swooped on the students agitating in front of the administrative building to press home their demands.
Earlier around 7:30am, the students put all the seven academic buildings under lock and key and brought out processions on the campus. Around 10:00am, some 2,500 students locked the administrative building and began a sit-in there.
Meantime, the RU unit BCL brought out a procession on the campus around 11:30am, thanking the authorities for withholding the decision to increase fees. But within half an hour, the BCL men ran into the agitating students, said witnesses and victims.
The BCL activists then tried to unlock the administrative building, triggering an altercation with the demonstrators. Within minutes, some BCL cadres blasted five cocktails and started brandishing firearms, with a large contingent of police standing by them, the witnesses added.
As the students ran for life, police fired rubber bullets and teargas shells, leaving around 30 wounded.
Police also shot at the Shaheed Suhrawardy and Madar Bukhsh halls as some students took shelter there.
"Some attackers [BCL men] fired bullets in the air," alleged Rajib, one of the injured students.
Dispersed, a group of demonstrators tried to regroup near the Science Building and another group near the Central Library around 1:00pm, but the BCL men attacked both the groups, leaving 20 other injured.
About half an hour later, the cops again fired rubber bullets and teargas shells on another group of students who tried to regroup behind the Central Library, leaving about 50 more injured.
Mizanur Rahman Rana, BCL RU unit president, was present during the attacks. BCL activists from Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology, Agrani School and College and other BCL units of the city also joined the RU BCL men, witnesses said.
Campus sources said at least five BCL men brandished firearms during the violence. They are RU BCL Joint Secretary Nasim Ahmed Setu, its organising secretaries Foysal Ahmed, Ashif Hossain and Mostakim Billah and ex-joint secretary Sudipta Salam.
They roamed the campus to terrorise the general students, the sources added.
The agitating students alleged three assistant proctors -- Shakhawat Hossain, Sirajul Islam and Helal Uddin -- ordered the police to open fire on journalists near the administrative building when they questioned the law enforcers' role.
The trio could not be contacted for comments.
Later around 2:00pm, the angry students damaged windowpanes of Juberi Bhaban and vandalised a teacher's car there. Police fired blank shots to scatter them as they were heading for the vice-chancellor's residence.
Contacted, the RU unit BCL president claimed Shibir cadres, who got mingled with the agitating students, threw cocktails on the BCL procession, forcing his men to defend themselves.
He also denied that his men brandished firearms. But when photographs of the BCL men were shown to him, he said: "They are not our men. But if there is anyone, we will expel them."
Prof Sadekul Arefin Matin, RU students' adviser, said the peaceful movement turned violent due to the involvement of Shibir cadres. He blamed Shibir men for the attacks on Juberi Bhaban and teachers' vehicles.
Asked why police fired indiscriminately, Proloy Chichim, deputy commissioner of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police, said: "There were chances of bloodshed if police did not disperse the clashing groups by opening fire."
On BCL men brandishing firearms, he said he saw none.
In the past five years, the RU BCL factions clashed more than 70 times among themselves and with Shibir men, killing four people.