Shahbagh aflame with quota demo
At least 75 people were injured yesterday as police clashed with students demanding reforms in the quota system in public service, turning the capital's Shahbagh intersection and its adjacent areas into a battlefield.
Police fired several hundred teargas shells and rubber bullets, used water cannons and charged batons to disperse the demonstrators who blocked the intersection for over five hours since 2:30pm.
A section of the protesters broke the main gate of the residence of the Dhaka University vice chancellor around 1:45am today. They vandalised furniture and other belongings, and also torched three cars inside the compound, according to witnesses and fire service personnel.
About half-an-hour later, BCL men swooped on the protesters and chased them away from the VC's residence. Several gunshots were heard at that time, added the witnesses.
Another group of demonstrators took position near the DU mosque and continued to chant slogans. Around a hundred yards away, law enforcers took position in front of the Public Library.
Talking to reporters in front of the national museum around 1:45am, Awami League lawmaker Jahangir Kabir Nanak said party General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader will sit with the protesters around 11:00am today.
He, however, did not mention the venue of the meeting.
Earlier around 8:00pm, the law enforcers cleared the busy intersection and chased the demonstrators into the Dhaka University campus. Both sides threw brickbats at each other in the TSC area, witnesses said.
The protesters also burnt tyres and logs on the street and chanted slogans in support of their demand.
Around 8:30pm, a group of around 50 Chhatra League men, led by DU BCL General Secretary Motahar Hossain Prince, swooped on the protesters, said witnesses.
Asked, Motahar denied his involvement in the incident and said BCL men were trying to stop the protesters from damaging university property.
Talking to our DU correspondent around 10:30pm, Hasan Al Mamun, coordinator of the protesters' platform “Bangladesh Shadharan Chhatra Odhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad”, said they called an indefinite strike at all public universities and colleges under the National University from today to press home their demands.
The demands include reducing the number of quota-based government jobs, and merit-based recruitment in vacant posts in case of unavailability of eligible candidates for quota-based jobs, and same age limit for all jobseekers.
The protestors termed the quota system “disproportionate” and vowed to continue demonstration until their demands are met.
According to witnesses, police picked up five people from the spot.
Maruf Hossain Sorder, deputy commissioner (Ramna Division) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said around 10 police personnel were injured.
He, however, declined to give the number of arrestees.
One of the protesters, Abu Bakar Siddique, a student of Bangla at Dhaka University, was hit by a rubber bullet in the forehead.
Three policemen were also injured in the clash.
Bachchu Mia, in-charge of the police outpost at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said at least 75 people, who were injured in the incident, received treatment at the hospital.
Many of them were released after receiving first aid, said DMCH Resident Physician Mohammad Alauddin.
Several journalists, who were injured in the clash, alleged that law enforcers beat them up even after they gave their identity.
Earlier around 2:00pm, the protesters brought out a procession from the DU central library to press home their five-point demand.
They marched through the TSC-Nilkhet-Katabon road and then took position at the Shahbagh intersection. Some of them even presented flower to policemen.
The protesters blocked the intersection around 2:30pm, disrupting vehicular movement to major roads from the intersection.
Law enforcers asked the demonstrators to clear the intersection but they refused.
DMP Deputy Commissioner Maruf told this newspaper around 7:30pm that he had requested the demonstrators to clear the intersection, but they refused to leave.
Talking to our DU correspondent in the afternoon, Ujjal Mia, joint convener of the protesters' platform, said, “We will not go back home until a specific announcement on the reforms in the existing quota system is tabled in the ongoing session of parliament.”
Traffic was severely disrupted for several hours due to yesterday's protests in the capital and several other parts of the country.
In the capital's Karwan Bazar and Shahbagh areas, many ambulances were seen caught in traffic jam as the demonstrators did not allow those to pass. Some of the ambulances took the wrong side of the road towards Shahbagh where two major hospitals are located.
Several kilometre-long tailbacks developed on major roads and gradually spilled over into other areas. Police had to divert traffic on some roads to ease gridlock.
The city residents returning home from office were the worst sufferers.
“It took me over three hours to reach Farmgate by a bus from the court in Old Dhaka,” said a lawyer.
“We suffered a lot as it was hot and humid inside the vehicle.”
He said it usually takes around an hour to reach Farmgate from there.
Students of Jahangirnagar University, Rajshahi University, Bangladesh Agricultural University and several other institutions in Mymensingh blocked roads and highways in front of the universities.
In Mymensingh, several hundred students blocked the Mymensingh by-pass intersection in the afternoon over the demand for reforms in the quota system.
Around 4:00pm, students from Bangladesh Agricultural University, Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University and different colleges, including Government Ananda Mohan College, joined the protest.
Besides, around 300 students of Rajshahi University staged demonstration before the university main gate, and blocked the Dhaka-Rajshahi highway.