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Shutdown continues over demand for Bangladesh anti-blasphemy laws

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- An Islamic group sought to enforce a shutdown across the country Monday as it demands the government introduce new anti-blasphemy laws to punish bloggers it says have defamed Islam.

Hefajat-e-Islam, a radical group based in the southern seaport of Chittagong, rallied as many as half a million supporters Saturday in central Dhaka. Roads in the capital were almost empty Monday and some bus services weren't operating. Clashes were reported in Chittagong.

Hefajat's protest is backed by another group, the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders are on trial for war crimes committed during the country's independence struggle in 1971.

It was those hearings that sparked the crisis. As the first verdicts were delivered this year, online activists and youth groups gathered in the capital's Shahbag Square and, through postings on social media, called for those found guilty to be sentenced to death.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed Feb. 17 empowered judges hearing the war crimes cases to punish any organization whose members were involved. The move sparked reports the government was preparing to ban Jamaat, an extremist group which sided with Pakistan during the war.

-- Bloomberg News

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