Bangladesh law amendment: Cheers from Shahbagh

Dhaka (The Daily Star/ANN) - The unyielding Shahbagh protesters in Bangladesh have called upon people to resist today's dawn-to-dusk hartal (strike) called by the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

The protesters urged students and teachers to attend classes in all educational institutions, businessmen to keep their shops open, transport owners to bring their vehicles out on the streets and workers to go about their daily work in a collective effort to defy Jamaat.

Already, different bus operators, businesses, educational institutions and political organisations have responded to the call and vowed to brave the shutdown.

"All educational institutions will remain open," Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told Ekattur television yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Shahbagh movement on Sunday celebrated the fulfilment of its first and foremost demand - amendment to the International Crimes Tribunal law.

The victory could not have come at a more appropriate moment for the protesters, who stood resolute at Shahbagh, defying the menacing clouds, biting cold and a light drizzle.

The crowd broke into exuberant cheers as they heard the news of the amendment empowering the war crimes tribunals to try organisations for complicity in crimes against humanity in 1971.

The amendment will also allow the victims and the government to appeal against any verdict given by the tribunals.

Demonstrators chanted "Joy Bangla!" with vigour and conviction, danced in the rain, distributed sweetmeats in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and congratulated each other on their victory.

They also vowed not to lose sight of their ultimate goal and to keep occupying the Shahbagh intersection till their six-point demand was met.

The demands include capital punishment to all war criminals, banning Jamaat-Shibir and revoking the state power to grant clemency to any convict.

Imran H Sarkar, one of the key organisers of the movement, announced the news of the passage of the law to the crowd and hailed it as the first achievement of the movement.

"We'll continue our protests until our six-point demand is met," he later told The Daily Star.

The general public, for the most part, were content at the swift amendment and hoped that the law would be accordingly enforced.

"I'm only partially happy, because having a very tough law is just not enough. Seeing the criminal organisation tried in a court of law will make me happy," said Paban Sarkar, a computer science graduate.

"The amendment has been brought about by the protests at Shahbagh. Now it remains to be seen how quickly the laws are enforced," said Piplu Adhikary, who works at a private company.

At the protest venue, demonstrations in fiery slogans continued for the 13th consecutive day amid the first rain of the year. At 10am, protesters hoisted the national flag and sang the national anthem.

Students and teachers in schools, colleges and universities across the country sang the national anthem in unison and hoisted the national flag to express solidarity.

The protesters also called upon the media houses not to publish or broadcast any advertisements of Jamaat-linked institutions. They also urged people to wear black badges during the hartal hours and hoist black flags in memory of slain blogger and activist Ahmed Rajib Haidar.

The Bangladesh Shop Owners Association at a meeting on Sunday decided to reject the hartal too, and urged all shop owners to keep their businesses open.

Bangladesh Transport Owners Association has also decided to operate passenger vehicles. The Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Samity, an association of bus owners, said it would maintain bus service throughout the country as well.

Dhaka University authorities, too, rejected the shutdown and decided to hold classes and examinations as usual.

Rashed Khan Menon, president of the Workers Party of Bangladesh, at a meeting on Sunday, called upon all to build a resistance at every locality against the hartal and the violent activities of Jamaat and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir.

Later in the evening, at least 70 lawmakers, including Whip ASM Feroz, joined the demonstration. They went to the protest venue around 9:20pm and stayed for around 20 minutes, said Bappadittya Bashu, an organiser of the movement that began on February 5, demanding death penalty to all war criminals.

State Minister for Liberation War Affairs Capt (retd) AB Tajul Islam, State Minister for Housing and Public Works Abdul Mannan Khan and lawmaker Junaid Ahmed Polok spoke there and expressed their solidarity with the demonstrators.

Earlier in the day, Communist Party of Bangladesh, Musicians Alliance, Gonoforum, Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad, among others, expressed solidarity.

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