Anti-Rampal power plant activists were met with tear gas, water cannon and batons when they took to the streets in the capital yesterday to enforce eight-hour hartal.
Demonstrators led by student bodies of left-leaning political bodies, around 6:30am began marching towards Shahbagh from the Dhaka University campus. Police put up barricades as they reached near the DU Fine Arts faculty.
Law enforcers fired tear gas canisters and used water cannon every time protesters tried to go past them to Shahbagh. At one point pro-hartal activists of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports began throwing brick chips at police who then hurled those back. Eventually chase and counter-chase ensued foiling what was meant to be a peaceful protest.
Some 20 activists were injured at the time. The committee will hold countrywide demonstrations tomorrow to protest the police attack on its activists, said Prof Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the committee.
Meanwhile in Rampal upazila of Bagerhat, local lawmaker Talukder Abdul Khalek along with Awami League leaders and activists attended a human chain demanding quick construction of the coal-fired power plant.
The human chain was organised under the banner of Dakkhinanchal Unnayan Parishad by the Khulna-Mangla highway around 11:00am, reports our Bagerhat correspondent.
Pro-hartal activists brought out processions peacefully under police watch in the capital's Paltan intersection, Shantinagar, Mohammadpur, Agargaon and Mirpur 10.
They were, however, prevented from marching towards Shahbagh intersection. Police's frequent firing of tear gas canisters left the place shrouded in smoke.
Officer-in-Charge of Shahbagh police Abu Bakar Siddique said at least 70 gas canisters were discharged.
Asked about the use of water cannons and tear gas, Maruf Hossain Sorder, deputy commissioner of Ramna Division, said police tried to keep the Shahbagh intersection clear “as there are two major hospitals in the area.”
Two journalists were physically assaulted by police when they were covering an incident of law enforcers beating up an activist.
The victims -- Abdul Alim and Ishan Bin Didar -- are cameraperson and reporter of private TV channel ATN News.
Staff of the channel said filing a case was underway against policemen for attacking the journalists.
Prof Anu Muhammad said police had also scuffled with pro-hartal activists at Mirpur and Sutrapur.
The national oil, gas committee will stage sit-ins on February 25 on highways across the country demanding the cancellation of the Rampal plant and hold a grand rally in Khulna pressing home the same demand on March 11.
Anu Muhammad told The Daily Star that people support the cause of saving the Sundarbans.
"Transport workers also wanted to participate in the strike. But we learnt that the government, with their police, intimidated them and forced them to run their vehicles”.
Protests against the coal-fired power plant have spread worldwide to save the world's largest mangrove forest. Environmental concerns have been issued from several quarters, including the Unesco.
The Communist Party of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Chhatra Union and Bangladesh Chhatra Federation among other leftist political parties condemned the “police attack on activists” in separate statements.
Police had detained four to five people during yesterday's hartal. They were released later on.
DEMONSTRATIONS IN CHITTAGONG AND RAJSHAHI
The national oil, gas committee held a rally at Cheragi Pahar Intersection of Chittagong in the afternoon, condemning the attack on pro-Sundarbans activists in Dhaka. A procession was also brought out from the rally.
Activists at Shaheb Bazar Zero point in Rajshahi city demonstrated against the Rampal plant.
Students of leftist political parties held protests on the campuses of Rajshahi and Chittagong universities.