DHAKA: Thousands of students across Bangladesh staged protests and sit-ins Monday after clashes at the country’s top university left at least 100 people injured. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at Dhaka University students fighting what they consider “discriminatory” government job quotas in favour of special groups.
It was one of the biggest protests faced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her decade in power. A minister was due to meet protest leaders in Dhaka on Monday. But students at state-run universities in Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal, Rangpur, Sylhet and Savar boycotted classes and staged sit-ins, police and media said.
“More than 1,000 students joined the demonstrations at Jahangirnagar University,” said Ataur Rahman, a protester in Savar where the university is located. The clashes, which began Sunday night and went into the early hours of Monday, turned Dhaka University into a battleground. Copycat protests soon started in other major cities as thousands of students boycotted classes and staged sit-ins.
Organisers in Dhaka said they were holding peaceful protests when police started firing tear gas and rubber bullets. They used batons and water cannon to clear a central square. As violence spread across the campus, thousands of male and female students launched into pitched battles with police. “More than 100 people were injured,” police inspector Bacchu Mia told AFP, adding they were treated in hospital but their condition was not serious.
Protesters threw rocks, vandalised the home of the Dhaka University vice-chancellor, torched two cars and ransacked the fine arts institute, said senior police officer Azimul Haque. Fifteen people were detained, police said.
The students are angry at the government’s decision to set aside 56 percent of civil service jobs for the families of veterans from the 1971 war of independence and for disadvantaged minorities. That leaves most university graduates to fight for only 44 percent of the jobs. Hasan Al Mamun, a leader of the protests, said tens of thousands of students joined the demonstrations nationwide. Police declined to estimate the number.
Al Mamun said the quota for top-grade jobs should be reduced to only 10 percent. “These quotas are discriminatory. Due to the quota system, 56 percent of the jobs are set aside for five percent of the country’s population. And 95 percent of the people can compete for the 44 percent,” he said. Students are particularly upset at the 30 percent quota set aside for descendants of veterans of the independence war. Sheikh Hasina, whose father was the architect of the country’s independence from Pakistan, has rejected demands to slash the quotas.