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Dhaka Tribune

Quota protesters clash with police

Update : 12 Jul 2013, 02:29 AM

At least 50 students were injured as clashes broke out when police tried to remove unsuccessful BCS aspirants, who had been protesting against the examination quota system over the last two days at the city’s Shahbagh.

Cadres of the Bangladesh Chhatra League were also involved in the clashes that began around 11am turned the Dhaka University campus and its surrounding areas into a battlefield.

The three hour-long protests and clashes happened in phases, and at multiple locations simultaneously. The clashes caused panic amongst the general students, while city commuters had to experience untold suffering, due to blockades at Shahbagh.

According to witnesses, the protesters, in retaliation, threw brickchips, put blockades on the roads around the campus and ransacked around 10 vehicles, including two owned by a private television channel, and injured the drivers in the process.

Police fired rubber bullets, lobbed teargas canisters, charged with batons, used water cannons, and detained nine youths. The Chhatra League activists equipped with sticks and iron-rods also swooped on the demonstrators.

Among the injured, nine protesters were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Three were hit by rubber bullets. Several students received primary treatment at DU Medical Centre.

Protesters stormed the residence of DU vice-chancellor and office of the proctor.

They also set fire to the decorative materials used during Pahela Baishakh and Shahbagh movement programmes.

The DU authorities, Chhatra League activists and eyewitnesses said the protesters were instigated and aided by BNP’s student front, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, and Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of key opposition ally Jamaat-e-Islami.

Meanwhile, the movement gained momentum as sections of students at different public universities including Jahangirnagar University, Chittagong University and Agricultural University, Mymensingh, expressed solidarity with the protesters.

DU files cases

The Dhaka University administration Thursday filed cases against five hundred of the demonstrators who allegedly ransacked vice chancellor’s residence and proctor’s office.

In the vandalism case filed by the university’s chief security officer, Kamrul Islam, with Shahbagh police, the plaintiff named the nine already arrested during police action on the unsuccessful BCS aspirants earlier in the day.

Causes of demonstration

The anti-quota movement was launched on Wednesday morning, as some unsuccessful candidates of the 34th BCS preliminary exams staged a demonstration at Shahbagh, and put blockades on the roads, causing severe traffic jams in the city.

In the past, the quotas were implemented after written examinations (held after the preliminary test); this time around, it was made effective at the primary screening. Protesters say this excluded many meritorious students, and they sought a review of the implementation decision. 

In response, the Public Service Commission (PSC), on the same day, said it would review the test results, published on Monday, where 12,033 out of 225,575 candidates had qualified.

The protesters resumed their agitation Thursday. Witnesses said the clashes erupted at 11am when police barred the agitators from gathering in the area. They put blockades on the roads at Shahbagh after a procession came from the DU central library.

As police charged with batons and fired tear gas shells at the demonstrators, they went on rampage in the area and vandalised several vehicles.

Meanwhile, a group of them took up a position in front of the Faculty of Fine Arts and hurled bricks at the police.

They also set fire to the traditional festive materials used during Pahela Baishakh and the effigies of alleged war criminals created during the recent movement held at Shahbagh.

BCL’s action

Witnesses said around 60-70 activists from different residential halls, led by Chhatra League’s DU unit President Mehedi Hasan and General Secretary Omar Sharif, swooped down on the clashing protesters near Madhu’s Canteen, inside the arts faculty building and adjacent areas.

They launched their assault labelling the protesters as “Chhatra Shibir activists,” and terming the movement “anti-independence.”

Contacted, Omar Sharif first denied the attacks by any Chhatra League activists. However, he later claimed as the son of a freedom fighter, it was his responsibility to resist anti-liberation forces like Jamaat-Shibir.

“I did not resist them as a Chhatra League leader, rather as the son of a freedom fighter,” he said.

Attack on VC’s residence and proctor office

A group of protesters laid siege to the official residence of the VC and proceeded to storm the premises. They damaged the garden and various materials in the residence and attacked the security guards. Arriving at the scene, police hurled tear-gas shells to drive them away.

Meanwhile, another group stormed the DU proctor’s office and went on a rampage.

Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Vice-Chancellor AAMS Arefin Siddiqui termed the movement “illogical” mentioning the announcement of the PSC administration, who would be reviewing the preliminary results.

Questioning the protesters, he said: “Though the protest is against the PSC administration, the trouble is being created on DU campus instead. It seems that there is an aim to destabilise the campus, as part of an attempt to lead the country into disarray.”

Expressing concern over the attacks at his residence and the proctor’s office, Prof Arefin said: “What was the logic behind attacking the VC’s official residence, where not only the VC, but also his family members reside?”

Asked, Acting Proctor Prof Amzad Ali said the movement was not to press for the end of the quota system, but to create disorder.

“We were sympathetic to their demand, but their activities today [Thursday] indicate that some other forces, maybe from Jamaat-Shibir, have infiltrated their ranks and are working from inside, which is quite unacceptable,” he said.

Amzad on Wednesday had gone to Shahbagh and expressed his solidarity with the movement saying: “Someone will fail after getting 80 marks and someone will pass with 50 marks – this discrimination cannot be allowed to continue.”

He also blamed some “overenthusiastic people at the PSC administration” for putting the government in trouble.

Police version

Sarder Maruf Hassan, DMP deputy commissioner of Ramna division, said they had to go into action to free up the road, with the view to ease public suffering and bring the situation under control.

“We charged with batons and used some tear gas canisters, but no bullets,” the DC said, adding: “Some of the policemen also suffered injuries in the attack by the demonstrators.”

Asked about the attacks by the Chhatra League cadres, he said he was not aware of any such incidents.

He also acknowledged that nine protesters had been detained by police.

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