Thousands of students at Dhaka University (DU) fought running battles with police last night demanding removal of an army camp from the campus and an apology from the army for beating up three students earlier in the afternoon.
More than 150 students and four police were injured in the confrontations in which police fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters as well as using water cannons and repeated baton charges. Students pelted police with stones and bricks.
At least 60 injured students received treatment from Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and DU Medical Centre. Five on-duty journalists of different dailies were also injured during the clashes.
Students protesting police and army brutality called an indefinite student strike at DU starting today.
Intermittent battles which had started in the evening between police and students continued until filing of this report around 1:30am. Police vehicles including water cannons were patrolling the campus streets at the time, firing tear gas canisters and hot water at the demonstrators.
Students took positions inside dormitories including Bangabandhu Hall, Zia Hall, Surya Sen Hall, Jashimuddin Hall, Zohurul Haq Hall, Muhsin Hall, Shahidulla Hall and other places and pelted police with stones and brickbats. They put tires and other things on fire at places to save themselves from the tear gas.
The demonstrators burnt effigies of the army chief and other flammable items like chairs and tables. They put up barricades on the road in front of Zohurul Haq Hall and at the intersection in front of Jasimuddin Hall with big branches of trees.
Police beat up Acting Vice-chancellor (VC) Prof AFM Yusuf Haider, Proctor AKA Firoz Ahmed, Prof Haider's personal assistant Shahjahan Howlader, and other DU employees in the Central Shaheed Minar area.
One of the injured DU employees said they along with several students were going to DMCH to visit the injured students, when they approached the Shaheed Minar, police suddenly started beating the students. As Prof Haider and Prof Ahmed tried to save them, police beat them up too.
The demonstrating students beat up an intelligence official around 12:15am, and chased another high ranking intelligence official off the campus.
Female students took part in processions inside the dormitories protesting the police action.
All the entrances to the campus were sealed off as ambulances were running down the streets blasting their sirens and carrying the wounded.
The authorities directed law enforcing agencies to increase surveillance on other educational campuses also in and outside the capital, police sources said.
The initial cause of the demonstrations was an incident around 3.30pm yesterday when army personnel mercilessly beat three DU students and humiliated a teacher over a petty dispute concerning comments passed by spectators watching a soccer match on the university gymnasium ground where an army camp is situated.
The soccer match was between the departments of public administration and journalism. During a penalty shoot Mehedi Mohammad, a student of the public administration department stood up in front of a group of army personnel, obscuring their view.
Army members allegedly abused him verbally and asked him to move before beginning to beat Mehedi and his friends.
Mehedi along with Shafiq and Lucas all MSS students of public administration, and Dipu, a third year student of the same department, were taken to DMCH for treatment.
As Mubashsher Munayem, a teacher of public administration tried to stop the incident, the army personnel humiliated him too.
In protest, students demonstrated against the army action, demanding an apology and removal of the army camp from the campus. In response police baton charged the students injuring five or six of them.
By early evening, news of the events had spread, triggering a few thousand more students to pour onto the streets in protest.
Acting VC Prof AFM Yusuf Haider, Proctor Prof AKA Firoz Ahmed, assistant proctors and some other teachers rushed to the spot and sat with the army and students to reach a solution.
After the meeting Prof Haider said, "The officer-in-charge of the army unit Colonel Huda unconditionally expressed sorrow for the incident on behalf of his force and said they will take action against the responsible army personnel," but angry students demanded that the responsible apologize publicly and that the army camp be shifted.
Students were frightened when the army took video shots of the demonstrators as they chanted slogans against the army.
The proctor said, "I saw someone taking video shots from the rooftop, but when I talked to the army, they denied it was them."
After sometime students went to the campus and took part in a protest procession which started from the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) to press home their demand. As they approached the residence of the VC, police charged batons on the students from behind, injuring five demonstrators, including one female student.
Students were disbursed, but soon they were reinforced, as hundreds of students came out of different dormitories including Bangabandhu Hall, Zia Hall, Surya Sen Hall and Jashimuddin Hall and gathered at Mall Chattar on the campus, adjacent to VC's residence.
There, furious students vandalised a police vehicle with some police inside.
Then they marched towards the army camp at the gymnasium and got locked in a fierce battle with police. Police charged batons on the students, hurled tear shells, shot rubber bullets and chased them leaving many demonstrators injured.
Nazmul, a sophomore of the public administration department, was shot with rubber bullets in the face. He had to undergo a surgery.
In retaliation, students pelted police with brickbats, stones and other such things turning the area into a virtual battleground.
During the clashes, police picked four of the demonstrators and handed them over to the army. Minutes after they were taken inside the camp, screams were heard, witnesses said.
The battle spread from the gym to TSC, Rokeya Hall, the central library, VC's residence, Mall Chattar, Bangabandhu Hall, Zia Hall, Surya Sen Hall, Jashimuddin Hall, AF Rahman Hall, Shahidullah Hall, Muhsin Hall and other places of the campus.
Several hundred police took position on the streets, while the demonstrators continued to pelt them with brickbats and stones hiding behind buildings and from rooftops.
While the demonstrators were fighting with police, Acting VC Prof Haider and others university officials and teachers visited DU Medical Centre.
CGS MAJ GEN SINA IBNE JAMALI
Meanwhile, Chief of the General Staff of Army Maj Gen Sina Ibne Jamali visited DMCH to inquire about the injured students, but he came out of the hospital in the face of angry protest by the students.
He went back again with several other army personnel and five vehicles including an army ambulance around 11:45pm.
When he entered the DMCH compound, demonstrators chanted slogans.
Coming out of the hospital, General Jamali told reporters that he went to the hospital to inquire about the condition of the injured students and to assess whether they needed to be shifted to other hospitals including Combined Military Hospital for better treatment.
He said the students were excited. "I could not see them," he added.
Jamali also said he heard that the incident had taken place centring a game. "Our law is very strict. If any one is found guilty on our part, strict measures will be taken against that person," he said.
He also said steps will also be taken against people who will be found responsible for exacerbating the incident. He said the army had already formed an inquiry committee.
Asked whether the army camp will be removed from the campus, Jamali said, "We will definitely consider what the students have to say. We will respect their sentiment."
DU Teachers Association (Duta) General Secretary Prof Anwar Hossain said the incident was unwanted. "We hope the authorities will take proper and immediate steps."
PANIC AT DMCH
After Jamali left the campus, police hurled tear gas canisters around Shahidullah Hall, adjacent to DMCH. The gas spread into DMCH emergency block causing panic among patients.
The army set up a camp on December 10 last year at DU gymnasium. Since then the students have been alleging that the army has been hogging the gym depriving the students of chances of having physical exercise there.
"They have occupied our gymnasium, depriving us of physical exercise. Now they have begun beating us too," a student of the Bangla department said.