India’s Modi ends Bangladesh visit that sparked violence
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In this photo, courtesy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter handle, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stand for a photo in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday March 26, 2021. Modi closed on Saturday its two-day officials from visiting Bangladesh amid violent protests and excitement that bilateral relations between the two neighbors would continue to grow. (Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter handle via AP Photo)
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In this photo, courtesy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter handle, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stand for a photo in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday March 26, 2021. Modi closed on Saturday his two-day officials visit Bangladesh amid violent protests and excitement that bilateral relations between the two neighbors would continue to grow. (Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter handle via AP Photo)
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed his two-day official visit to Bangladesh on Saturday. This trip sparked both violent protests and enthusiasm that relations between the two neighbors will continue to grow.
Modi arrived on Friday to attend celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence, but the visit was overshadowed by violent protests in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere. At least four people were killed and 40 injured in clashes between protesters and security officials.
Critics accuse Modi’s Hindu nationalist party of fueling religious polarization in India and discriminating against minorities, especially Muslims. In recent weeks, Muslim-majority protesters in Bangladesh had urged the Indian leader not to visit him and criticized Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for inviting him.
The relationship between Bangladesh and India is vital as they are next door neighbors and India is Bangladesh’s largest trading partner in South Asia. While China is involved in almost all major infrastructure development programs in Bangladesh, India is also more willing to take on joint projects.
On Saturday, Modi and Hasina signed five agreements on trade, disaster management, information technology and sport, Hasina’s spokesman Ihsanul Karim told reporters.
They also laid the foundation stone for the expansion of the infrastructure for energy evacuation systems for a nuclear power plant under construction in Bangladesh. A new train service between Bangladesh and India was also introduced by the two guides.
Modi also traveled outside of Dhaka to pray at two temples. He once met the descendants of the founder of a Hindu sect, a visit seen by many as an attempt to attract voters in India when voting began on Saturday in several state-level elections, including in West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh.
With the aim of strengthening Hindu support in the most important battlefield state, Modi made his way to the temple, which is sacred to the Matua community in West Bengal. The Matua sect’s vote is expected to determine the winner of at least seven seats in a tight race for control of the State Assembly. Hundreds of Matua sects from India visit the temple every year.
Protests in and outside Dhaka continued on Saturday.
In Dhaka, a few hundred Hefazat-e-Islam demonstrators demonstrated in front of Dhaka’s main mosque, Baitul Mukarram, but it remained peaceful. However, the police clashed with protesters in the northeastern district of Habiganj and injured at least 20 people, Independent Television from Dhaka reported. The station said protests took place in several other cities as well.
In recent weeks, protesters in Bangladesh had sung anti-India and anti-Modi slogans, calling for the visit to be canceled.
The protesters also criticized Hasina for inviting Modi, saying the two countries had many unresolved disputes, including the murder of Bangladeshis by Indian border guards. India says such victims occur when Bangladeshis are involved in cross-border smuggling and attempting to cross the border illegally.
Many Bangladeshis also criticize Modi for failing to sign water-sharing agreements for the Teesta River, a major cross-border river.
On Friday clashes broke out between groups of protesters and police officers in Dhaka’s main mosque, who dispersed the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets. Numerous people were injured, officials and witnesses said.
The Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, which has a network of Islamic schools across Bangladesh, announced a nationwide general strike for Sunday to protest the events on Friday, during which its members were accused of attacking government structures.
Mamunul Haque, a leader of the group, said Saturday they would carry out the strike and warned authorities not to try to stop their activists from taking to the streets.
The country’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, an arch-rival of Hasina, said calling for a general strike was logical.