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Over 50 injured as police, quota reform demonstrators clash at Dhaka University

  • Published at 06:06 pm April 8th, 2018
  • Last updated at 11:42 pm April 9th, 2018
Over 50 injured as police, quota reform demonstrators clash at Dhaka University
More than 50 people have been injured in violent clashes between police and students of various universities and job seekers, who have been demanding reformation of the existing quota system in government recruitment tests, at Shahbagh and Dhaka University (DU) areas. An unknown number of protesters were also detained by police during the sporadic clashes and running battles that started around 7:45pm on Sunday, but was still going on in and around DU’s TSC intersection till the filing of this report around 2:30am Monday. Several thousands of demonstrators had blockaded all four roads at Shahbagh intersection, one of the city’s busiest, since 2:30pm, as part of their nationwide demonstration Sunday to further push the government to meet their five demands. The blockade had caused severe gridlocks and public suffering on all the roads going through Shahbagh. The protesters, gathered under the banner of Bangladesh Sadharan Chhatra Odhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad, had demanded discussion of the quota reform issue in the parliament, latest session of which started Monday. [embed]https://www.facebook.com/DhakaTribune/videos/1877126619029314/[/embed] After over five hours, they were forced to move from Shahbagh to TSC around 7:30pm when police started lobbing teargas shells to disperse them. The law enforcers also charged baton and used water cannons on the demonstrators at the time. Most of the protesters then gathered at TSC where police continued their charge. They also used water cannons to put out a fire the demonstrators had started in front of the Faculty of Fine Arts. Even though they had press credentials, several journalists including this Dhaka Tribune correspondent and the DU correspondents of daily Prothom Alo, UNB and BSS were also injured when police charged baton. The protesters were also seen hurling brickbats at the law enforcement officials, who also fired back rubber bullets along with teargas shells. The number of police was seen increasing as the clash went on. [caption id="attachment_257926" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Demonstrators vandalized the home of DU Vice-Chancellor Prof Md Akhtaruzzman early Monday Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune[/caption] DU Vice Chancellor (VC) Prof Md Akhtaruzzman said he had warned the police not to do “excess” or attack any student. Around 12:30am, Proctor AKM Golam Rabbani told the Dhaka Tribune: “Students should go home right now, and we will discuss the matter and find a solution later. We want a peaceful end to this situation at the moment.”
Also Read- Prime minister orders Quader to sit with anti-quota demonstrators

VC residence under attack

Around 1:45am, facing incessant attacks from both police and Bangladesh Chhatra League, protesters tore down the main gate and broke into the VC’s home situated inside the campus and vandalized it extensively. They also brought out the furniture and set them on fire inside the compound. The agitated demonstrators also torched two cars of VC Akhtaruzzman. Several gas cylinders kept in the kitchen also exploded at the time after they were set on fire. [caption id="attachment_257863" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Police have arrested several demonstrators, protesting quota system in government recruitment from Shahbagh area on Sunday; April 8, 2018 Dhaka Tribune[/caption] They had kept VC confined there for around 30 minutes demanding a stop to police assault. However, a number of general students had created a human shield to protect the VC from the agitated demonstrators. There were also no reports of Prof Akhtaruzzaman’s family members being harmed during that time. Chhatra League leaders and activists, led by central committee President Saifur Rahman Sohag and General Secretary SM Jakir Hossain, later chased the protesters out of the VC’s home. The demonstrators were then chased by police towards TSC. Fire Service later put out the flames in the premises of the VC’s residence. Around the same time, senior Awami League leader Jahangir Kabir Nanak went to Shahbagh and told reporters that the government would sit down with the protesters at the orders of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He said the prime minister has asked Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader to sit with the demonstrators at 11am on Monday to resolve the outstanding issues. But he did not say anything about the meeting venue. From there, Nanak went to meet the DU VC, and was seen sitting with Prof Akhtaruzzaman in the courtyard of the VC’s home. Meanwhile, around 800 female students of the university had also come out of the dormitories and gathered at different places including TSC of the campus, expressing solidarity with the quota reform seekers. Around 2:30am, the demonstrators had mostly dispersed from the campus after the law enforcers chased them towards TSC. An unnerving calm followed as additional forces of police arrived and were seen taking positions at different points on the campus.
Also Read- Should the quota system be scrapped or reformed?

Injured at DMCH, BSMMU

At least 15 students with major injuries were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) during the clash, said DMCH casualty department doctor Alauddin. Three of them were critically injured. Abu Bakkar Siddique, a third year student of Bangla Department, was rushed to DMCH after he was shot in the left eye with a rubber bullet. Around 30 others were also taken to DMCH with various types of injuries. Many were released after they received first aid. However, police allegedly detained several demonstrators from DMCH after charging batons when they faced protest. Five policemen were also injured, three of them critically, by the brickbats hurled by the protesters. They were taken to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) hospital at Shahbagh. ATN Bangla cameraperson Monir had sustained head injuries from the protesters’ brickbats. He was taken to BSMMU hospital as well. The protesters had vandalized at least 50 vehicles inside DU campus during the clash. They had also attacked and vandalized an ambulance that was carrying police officials. Around 11:45pm, one of the leaders of the movement, Hasan Al Mamun, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Because of this police brutality and to have our demands met, we are calling an indefinite strike at all the educational institutions across the country from Monday.” Students and job seekers had started the movement around the country on February 17. Their five demands are – keeping 10% quota for freedom fighters children and others, and the rest 90% on merit basis for government jobs, filling vacant posts from the merit list if eligible candidates from the quotas are not found, stopping special recruitment under a fixed quota, introduction of uniform age limit in government jobs, and scope for switching jobs under quota facility to a different candidate only on the basis of merit. First established by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1972, the quota system was disabled in 1975 after Bangabandhu’s assassination. For the next 24 years there was no quota system for freedom fighters. In 1996, Shiekh Hasina re-established it. The current system reserves 56% government jobs for some groups, depriving many deserving candidates from entering the public service sector and universities. Experts say the system should not be scrapped but overhauled. Under the quota system, 30% seats are reserved for descendants of freedom fighters, 10% zila quota, 10% quota for women and 5% quota for ethnic minorities. If this 55% quota is not filled, 1% goes to the physically challenged. If there are no deserving candidates from these selected groups, the government posts reserved for quota candidates remain vacant. [caption id="attachment_257862" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Police members are seen beating a protester, demonstrating against quota system in government recruitment, at an adjacent building in Shahbagh on Sunday; April 8, 2018 Dhaka Tribune[/caption]

Chhatra League joins the fray

Around 8:30pm, another group of protesters had tried to flee the police assault via Madhur Canteen, adjacent to the DU Arts Building. But a group of Bangladesh Chhatra League activists, led by the organization’s DU unit President Motahar Hossain Prince and several central committee leaders, chased the demonstrators back to in front of the DU Central Mosque, from where they went to TSC intersection. The Chhatra League activists were also seen attacking the demonstrators, who had started another fire at the intersection, in TSC area. Around 10:15pm, many Chhatra League leaders and activists were seen taking preparations at Madhur Canteen for a showdown on the campus. Later in the night, Chhatra League leaders claimed they had tried meeting with the coordinators of the movement in a bid to calm things down. But that did not work as police continued their charge against the demonstrators at TSC. [caption id="attachment_257924" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Demonstrators vandalized the home of DU Vice-Chancellor Prof Md Akhtaruzzman early Monday Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune[/caption] In the meantime, another group of demonstrators took position in front of the DU vice-chancellor’s house and was raising slogans protesting against the police assault on their program. Earlier in the day, one of the coordinators of the movement, Uzzal Miah, had told the Dhaka Tribune: "We will not leave until our demands met. If police try to harm us by attacking, we will go for tougher movement."

Demos around the country

Apart from the clashes in Dhaka, quota reform seekers had held various protest programs in major cities of the country as part of their nationwide demonstration. In Rajshahi, traffic on the Dhaka-Rajshahi Highway was suspended for several hours as Rajshahi University (RU) students staged a sit-in protest in front of the RU main gate blocking the highway. Masud Munnaf, a coordinator of the movement at RU, said they wanted the prime minister to take a decision during the ongoing parliament session to reform the quota system. Jahangirnagar University (JU) students blocked the Dhaka-Aricha Highway, adjacent to the main entrance of the campus, to press for the same demands. Around 500 students blocked the highway from 3:45pm to 4:20pm as part of their scheduled program. They also raised slogans opposing the present quota system. However, the students withdrew their blockade later following the intervention of the university authorities and JU unit of Chhatra League. In Chittagong, Chittagong University students had brought out a rally from Sholoshahar area in the city to realize the demands. The rally ended at Agrabad after parading through Lalkhan Bazar and Dewanhat.