Mayhem in Munshiganj | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 01, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 01, 2011

Mayhem in Munshiganj

Cop killed, 100 others injured as over 30,000 people stage violent protest against airport in Arial Beel

People protesting the proposed Bangabandhu International Airport in Arial Beel throwing brickbats at police, prompting them to retaliate with tear gas shells on Dhaka-Mawa highway in Munshiganj yesterday.Photo: Shawkat Jamil

A policeman was killed and about 100 others were injured when people protesting the proposed Bangabandhu International Airport in Arial Beel locked in a series of clashes with police on Dhaka-Mawa highway in Munshiganj yesterday.
Doctors declared Sub-Inspector Motiur Rahman, 53, dead when he was rushed to Mitford Hospital with critical injuries from the clashes.
The demonstrators torched a police outpost and a journalist's motorcycle at Hashara, Sreenagar.
The Arial Beel Rakkha Committee enforced blockade on the highway around 9:00am as per its announcement on January 26.
People from Sreenagar of Munshiganj and Nawabganj and Dohar upazilas of Dhaka started gathering at Hashara bus stand from 7:15am, said locals adding that by 11:00am, there were over 30,000 people, many of whom were carrying bamboo and wooden sticks.
The demonstrators blocked the highway near Hashara by putting logs and setting fire to tyres and firewood. They scattered over 10km area, from Chhonbari in Sreenagar to Kuchiamora in Sirajdikhan upazila.
When a procession of the protesters reached Chhonbari on its way to Sreenagar Bazar around 11:00am, police intercepted it.
“The programme was going peacefully until suddenly a group of people attacked police prompting the law enforcers to use water cannon,” Lt Col Ahsan, commanding officer of Rab-11, told The Daily Star.
In a press release, the Arial Beel Rakkha Committee condemned the attack on police and journalists by an unruly crowd during the procession.
Police fired rubber bullets and lobbed teargas canisters to disperse the demonstrators, said Shakhawat Hossain, officer-in-charge of Sreenagar Police Station. None was injured in the firing, he claimed.
However, our photographer reported from the spot that Shafiuddin Bitu, chief photographer of the Bangla daily Naya Diganta, received a bullet in his leg.
Several incidents of chases and counter chases took place during the clashes. While police were trying to disperse the protesters, a group of people attacked the Hashara police outpost situated about 10 km from Arial Beel.
“People with sticks and machetes attacked our outpost and locked our men in burning rooms,” Ozear Rahman, in-charge of the outpost, told The Daily Star.
The protesters vandalised all the eight rooms of the outpost before setting them ablaze, he said, adding, “We only managed to save our service arms but lost nineteen bullets.”
Witness Sheikh Al Amin said locals rushed to save the trapped policemen. Reinforcement from nearby outpost also rushed to the spot and lobbed teargas canisters to disperse the protesters. The demonstrators answered with brickbats.
When the reinforcement was returning from the spot, some demonstrators caught SI Motiur Rahman and another policeman between Hashara and Nimtoli point and attacked them with sharp weapons and sticks.
Meanwhile, when a vehicle, which the law enforcers had been using to fire teargas canisters, stopped due to technical faults, the angry mob vandalised it. They also beat up four policemen who were in the vehicle.
The protesters also beat up photojournalist Sajid Hossain and reporter Golam Mortuza of the Bangla daily Prothom Alo while they were covering the incident. The protesters also set fire to their motorcycle.
At around 3:00pm, Shajahan Badal, convener of the Arial Beel Rakkha Committee, and Iqbal Hossain Master, chairman of Baroikhali union parishad, asked the demonstrators to withdraw.
The demonstrators then put up the blockade. Vehicular movement on Dhaka-Mawa highway resumed around 4:00pm, an hour after law enforcer took the situation under control.
Saiful Islam, Munshiganj additional police superintendent, told The Daily Star that at least 70 policemen were injured, of whom 30 had been admitted to different hospitals.
Six injured policemen -- SI Kamal Pasha, 32, havilders Monir Hossain, 40, and Abul Kalam, 35, Nayek Mofizul Islam, 30, and constables Anwar Hossain, 30, and Azan Mia, 30, -- were undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
SI Abdul Amin, 28, Nayek Gaziur Rahman, 45, and constables Abdul Haque, 35, and Shahabuddin, 50, have been admitted to Mitford Hospital.
Deceased SI Motiur, son of Golam Rasul, of Naogaon sadar, was posted at Rajarbagh Police Lines. His body has been kept at Sir Salimullah Medical College morgue.
Health Minister AFM Ruhal Haque, Inspector General of Police Hassan Mahmood Khandker and Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Benazir Ahmed visited the injured policemen at the hospitals.
Talking to reporters at Mitford Hospital, the IGP said the policemen did what they were supposed to do.
Md Shafiqul Islam, Munshiganj superintendent of police, said about 500 policemen had been deployed from Chanbari to Kuchiamore to maintain law and order.
However, talking to The Daily Star, Arial Beel Rakkha Committee leader Shahjahan Badal said the blockade was also a protest to police action on them at Muktangan in the capital on January 26 and filing of a case against 4,026 of their people.
On January 26, police tried to bar supporters of the committee from joining a protest rally at Muktangan. The incident triggered clashes between demonstrators and police that left at least 30 people injured and 20 vehicles and 30 shops vandalised in Dhaka and Munshiganj.
The government has decided to build the airport in an area that includes thousand acres of agricultural land and part of a wetland, Arial Beel.
Shukumar Ranjan Ghosh, Awami League lawmaker from Munshiganj-3, held BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia responsible for yesterday's violence. “Following directives from Khaleda, Chhatra Dal and Jubo Dal activists instigated locals to demonstrate against the proposed airport.”
He was addressing a press conference at AL President Sheikh Hasina's political office in Dhanmondi yesterday.
He said the administration and police showed maximum tolerance despite "unruly behaviour of the protesters".
Sagufta Yasmin Emili, treasury bench whip, alleged that BNP distributed huge money in the Arial Beel locality to turn the protest into an act of violence.
On the other hand, BNP Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain yesterday blamed the government for yesterday's clash.
“Government has created chaotic situation there in a planned way by imposing its whim on the people,” he told reporters after a meeting of leaders at the party's Naya Paltan office.
A new airport, Delwar said, is unnecessary. “The airport will be built only to loot money and to name it after the father of the prime minister,” he added.
Expressing solidarity with the protesters, the BNP leader said they would call for a movement if the government does not stop “anti-people activities” in Munshiganj.
As per the meeting decision, BNP will stage demonstration tomorrow protesting share market crash, deterioration of law and order and municipality polls rigging, and also demanding resignation of election commissioners.
Replying a question, the BNP secretary general said his party will return to the House if a congenial atmosphere is created. “Our parliamentary party will take decision about joining parliament…. But it's not true that we are returning to parliament to protect membership.”

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