DHAKA - Shaking the Bangladesh capital, hundreds of thousands of Islamists rallied in Dhaka on Saturday, April 6, after an overnight "long march" calling for tough laws on bloggers who insult Islam or Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
I've come here to fight for Islam, Shahidul Islam, an imam at a mosque outside Dhaka who walked 20 kilometers (13 miles), told Agence France Presse (AFP).
We won't allow any bloggers to blaspheme our religion.
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The Islamists converged on Dhaka's main commercial hub to protest against latest writings by atheist bloggers, said to insult Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The marchers set off for the capital soon after Friday prayers. They were marching from the southern city of Chittagong and other parts of Bangladesh.
Police said about 100,000 people attended the rally during which protesters chanted "God is great, hang the atheist bloggers".
Protest organizers, who called the rally the "long march" with many travelling from remote villages, put the number at more than half a million, as Dhaka's Motijheel commercial area turned into a sea of white robes.
The marchers called for a new blasphemy law, with the provision of the death penalty to punish those who insult Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
Organizing the rally, Hefajat-e-Islam group has put forward a total of 13 demands, criticizing the government for not taking action against what it calls "atheist bloggers".
The Islamic group has also accused the government of ordering the transport shutdown to try to foil its march to the capital.
The march follows a tense week after a group of Muslim scholars have submitted a list of bloggers accused of insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the Bangladeshi government.
The names were submitted by members of a committee formed by Sheikh Hasina's government following the unrest to identify and take action against bloggers making derogatory remarks against Islam.
Tension has gripped Bangladesh in recent weeks over postings by bloggers seen as insulting Islam.
Troubles agitated after the death of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider who was hacked to death near his home in the capital Dhaka.
Dozens of people including Islamists died and hundreds were injured as violence that rocked the country after police forces clashed with thousands of protesters from Islamist parties.
Some analysts viewed the anti-blasphemy protests as a card played by Islamists to press the government against charging political leaders being tried for war crimes.
"The march is more of a, if you [the bloggers] are going to demand the death penalty against us [the political party leaders, then we are going to demand a death penalty against you," Zafar Sobhan, the editor of the Dhaka Tribune, told Al Jazeera's via skype from Dhaka.
Death sentences against Islamist leaders on alleged war crimes during the 1971 war have caused deadly clashes in Bangladesh last month.
So far, three Islamist leaders were sentenced to death on charges of war crimes during the independence war.
The court rulings, however, triggered deadly protests in Bangladesh, which left more than 150 people dead.
The death sentences against Islamist leaders have already drawn condemnations from Muslim groups around the world.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt described the sentences as unjust and condemned the deadly force used against citizens during activities protesting the evidently wrongful sentence.
The ruling Ennahda party in Tunisia appealed to international organizations and human rights associations to raise their voices against police brutality against protestors.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board accused Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina of becoming a dictator and using the war crimes tribunal to crush the opposition.
Leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan Syed Munawar Hasan also warned that the death verdicts could plunge Bangladesh into civil war.
Bangladesh is the world's third-largest Muslim majority nation with a population of some 148 million.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net