Protests against women's policy cripple Bangladesh

AP News
Posted: Apr 04, 2011 12:55 PM
Protests against women's policy cripple Bangladesh

Police clashed with demonstrators and arrested dozens in Bangladesh as a hard-line Muslim group enforced a paralyzing general strike Monday protesting a new policy giving women equal inheritance rights.

The protesters, mostly students of Islamic schools, smashed vehicles and set fire to a fuel station and attacked a convoy of devotees on their way to an Islamic shrine in southeastern Bangladesh, according to police, news reports and witnesses. Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse protesters in various parts of the country.

Dozens were injured in clashes across the country during the strike, media reports citing police said.

Nearly 150 people were arrested during the one-day strike that saw schools and businesses shut in the nation's main cities and towns, the Daily Star newspaper and ETV station reporting, citing police and witnesses.

General strikes _ calls for businesses to close shop to protest a cause _ are fairly common in the South Asian country, and those who do not comply can face intimidation by hard-line activists.

Monday's strike was organized by the Islamic Law Implementation Committee, a grouping of several religious groups and political parties. Its head, Fazlul Huq Amini, told a news conference later Monday that about 100 activists had been arrested in the capital, Dhaka.

While the strike was called to broadly seek the adoption of Islamic law in the Muslim-majority nation of 150 million people, its specific agenda was to oppose the government's new policy on women's inheritance rights.

Under the government's new rules, every child inherits the same amount.

Amini accuses the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of violating the Quran, the Islamic holy book, by introducing the new inheritance policy.

Hasina, however, insists the new rules are in line with Islam and says the hard-line group is deliberately manipulating people's religious feelings to destabilize the country.

Hasina's government says it wants women to have greater rights in employment, inheritance and education.

Despite being governed mostly by secular laws, Bangladesh generally follows Islamic law in family-related matters, including marriage and inheritance.

The Quran's elaborate rules on inheritance are complicated. However, while there are several exceptions, in most cases a daughter inherits half of what is received by a son.

In Dhaka, a city of 10 million people, thousands of security officials were deployed to patrol the streets during the strike, police said.

The security officials cordoned off the country's main Baitul Mokarram mosque in downtown Dhaka and set up barbed wire fences near the mosque.

The strike came a day after a student was killed and 25 other protesters against the new inheritance policy were injured during a violent clash between hard-liners Muslims and police in western Bangladesh.

In Chittagong district, 135 miles (215 kilometers) southeast of Dhaka, protesters attacked a convoy of about 200 buses carrying devotees to an annual gathering at a local Islamic shrine, leaving about a dozen people injured, the Daily Star reported, citing its Chittagong bureau.

The Islamic Law Implementation Committee denounces people who visit shrines, saying Islam does not allow worshipping at shrines.

Also in Chittagong, firefighters rushed to a refueling station after it was set on fire by the protesters, the Daily Star said.