Clashes erupted for a second night inside the campus of Dhaka University after a police crackdown on thousands of demonstrators protesting a lack of job opportunities caused hundreds of injuries, students said early Tuesday (local time).
Videos from the scene that were posted on social media showed unidentified young men armed with machetes entering the campus area, people being beaten and crowds running through darkened streets.
“I saw two people who were beaten mercilessly by a group of young people,” an eyewitness, who requested anonymity, told BenarNews. “Their heads were smashed against the concrete [road].”
A student also described seeing the violence while walking out of the university campus about 10:30 p.m. Monday.
“I saw a group of people with helmets and sharp weapons in hand,” the student told BenarNews in a phone interview.
It’s unclear which group was responsible for the latest violence, which took place after police clashed with thousands of students at an intersection adjacent to the Dhaka University campus on Sunday evening.
The students were protesting what they called discriminatory quotas for government jobs.
Earlier, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said police had been instructed to identify those who started the violence.
“The culprits will be detected from the video footage,” Quader told reporters. “No innocent person will be detained.”
‘Politics of demolition’
On Monday, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police said at least 27 students had been detained on suspicion of participating in the protests, which started Sunday.
The protests spread across the country by Monday morning as students from state-run and private universities in other Bangladeshi cities, including Chittagong, Rajshahi, Jahangirnagar, Mymensingh, Kushtia and Sylhet, blocked roads and expressed solidarity with the Dhaka University students.
Police inspector Bacchu Mia told reporters on Sunday that more than 100 people were injured, but protest leaders later said at least 217 students suffered injuries in the clashes.
Meanwhile, the university’s vice chancellor, Mohamad Akhtaruzzaman, said Monday that unidentified men had barged into his residence, vandalized furniture and torched two cars outside his home.
“Those who came to my house were wearing masks” Akhtaruzzaman told reporters. “They came to do the politics of demolition.”
Since 1972, the Bangladeshi government has set aside a quota for employment in government jobs. In most cases, 56 percent of civil service positions are set aside for the families of disadvantaged minorities and families of “freedom fighters,” those veterans who fought in the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.
As a result, protesters say, only 44 percent of the jobs are left for candidates who are mostly university graduates in the country where, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 48.2 million people, including 1.4 million with college degrees, were unemployed last year. The country’s unemployment rate stood at 4 percent last year, according to the World Bank.
The latest clashes took place hours after Bipasha Chowdhury, one of the protest leaders, announced on the campus on Monday morning that the demonstrators had agreed to give the government a May 7 deadline to consider their demands.
“The government will examine the demands of the protesting students by May 7. Until then (the protesting students) have assured us they would postpone their demonstrations,” Quader, the road transport minister, who is also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League party, told reporters after holding talks with 20 protest leaders.
But another group vowed to continue the protests unless their demands were met.
“We do not accept the decision to postpone the protests,” Bipasha Chowdhury told reporters.
“We will continue boycotting classes at all public and private universities until our demands are met.”