Policemen stand guard as around a few hundred men, who took part in Hefajat demonstration, walk out of an alley in Motijheel area after the law enforcers broke the Shapla Chattar protest. Photo courtesy: shahbagecyberjuddho Facebook group
The capital woke up to rattling gunshots and explosions early Monday as security forces closed in on the Hefajat-e Islam activists in what turned out to be a decisive drive to scare them away from Shapla Chattar and adjoining areas.
The bodies of four people were found kept in a cot in front of Shapla Chattar while a 12-year-old boy was seen lying dead on the corridor of Sonali Bank building. But no police official or representative of the authorities were available to confirm whether they were killed during the raid.
To flee the action, the Hefajat men, who shouted their vow a few hours ago to sacrifice their lives and not to leave the area until their 13-point demands were met, took shelter in different alleys only to be smoked out or arrested soon.
By 2:50am, the Shapla Chattar, which saw the convergence of tens of thousands of angry Hefajat men shouting slogans against the government’s apathy to their demands, took a deserted look.
Only a few thousand pairs of sandals and wooden and bamboo sticks, which they left in a hurry while fleeing for cover, bore the testimony of their presence there in a massive number.
It could not be learnt immediately how many were injured or detained during the operation that started at 2:30am.
While the law enforcers virtually faced almost no challenge from the demonstrators on the main street in the business district, there were attempts by several groups of retaliation with brick chips at certain pockets.
The lawmen waited for hours before launching the drive understandably in line with a government policy laid out earlier in Sunday afternoon by Syed Ashraful Islam, secretary of the ruling Awami League.
What Islam, also the LGRD minister, meant by “tough action” the Hefajat-e Islam would have to face had they not left Motijheel area after Sunday evening, the time granted for the rally, began after several warnings with the daybreak.
A few thousand lawmen from Rapid Action Battalion, police and Border Guard Bangladesh, who were mobilised around the rally venue over the whole day Sunday, made announcements from loudspeakers requesting the demonstrators to leave the area reminding them that they were occupying the city heart beyond the time they were granted.
While continuing speeches, which began around 3:00pm the previous day soon after the group received permission from the Dhaka Metropolitan Police for a rally at Shapla Chattar, the Hefajat leaders kept on emptying their hearts how devoted they were for the cause of, what they said, safeguarding Islam and avenging the blood shed by their comrades during Sunday’s deadly violence, which left at least three dead.
Noticing the Hefajat leaders paying no heed to their repeated requests and in turn instigating the participants to retaliate against moves to drive them away from there, the law enforcers started marching slowly towards Shapla Chattar from various directions around 1:30am.
The first shot, that of firing teargas canister, was heard from Arambagh area an hour later.
Whistles, blown both by the law enforcers and the demonstrators, cut through the night silence with the security forces closing in on the demonstrators.
The law enforcers fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
Rays from the law enforcers’ helmet-mounted torches crisscrossed the dark city thoroughfare as smoke billowed from innumerable teargas canisters falling like raindrops all over the area.
As armoured police cars and thousands of law enforcers fired rubber bullets from different directions, the Hefajat men sneaked into nearby alleys and kept on chanting slogans.
The fleeing Hefajat workers stumbled on barricades at different points around the rally venue which they themselves had put earlier.
By 2:50am, the security forces cleared the area from Shapla Chattar to Ittefaq and Shapla Chattar to Dainik Bangla intersections.
However, the Hefajat men tried to regroup in different points like Modhumita Cinema Hall, Notre Dame College, Balaka alley, Ittefaq intersection, Pubali Bank and Islami Bank alleys.
Anti-government slogans were heard from there until the security forces pushed them further back from there.
Though some Hefajat men were seen lying on the ground, it could not be ascertained immediately whether they were dead, according to private different television channels.
To avoid arrest, several large groups ran towards Jatrabari using the Ittefaq intersection, which the law enforcers kept open for them to flee.