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32 dead as police clash with B’desh religious hardliners

Bangladeshi police broke up a protest by tens of thousands of religious hardliners and shut down an Islamist television station Monday after 32 people died in some of the fiercest street violence for decades. 

Hundreds more people were reported injured in running battles as riot police broke up the rally near a key commercial district in a pre-dawn raid. Dozens of demonstrators were also arrested, while the leader of the protests was put on a plane to the second city Chittagong. 

Hundreds of bankers, insurance officials and stock market traders had to sleep in their offices as the sound of gunfire echoed around the Motijheel Commercial Area through much of the night. 

Shops and vehicles were set alight while the roads were littered with rocks that protestors had thrown at police, witnesses said. 

Police said they used sound grenades, water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse at least 70,000 Islamists who were camped at Motijheel as part of a push for a new blasphemy law. 

'We were forced to act after they unlawfully continued their gathering at Motijheel. They attacked us with bricks, stones, rods and bamboo sticks,’ Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman said.  The protesters dispersed early Monday, he added. 

Mozammel Haq, a police inspector at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said that 11 bodies were brought to the clinic, including a policeman who had been hacked in the head with machetes. 

A total of 21 other people were killed in the protests, according to an AFP toll compiled through police and medical officials. 

This included eight people killed in the Kanchpur district on the southeastern outskirts of Dhaka, said the sources.  

At least two people were known to have been killed in the southern coastal district of Bagerhat where police exchanged gunfire.
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