A newly created religious group, Hefazaat is demanding the death penalty for all those it says are defaming Islam.
The group has held a mass protest geared at pushing a 13-point list of demands which also include a ban on men and women mixing freely together and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution, a protest that got out of hand.
The government in Bangladesh has therefore cracked down on protests, taking a television station off-air and transferring the man at the head of the group that instigated the deadly protests out of Dhaka under police escort.
Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi was taken out of the Hefazaat-e-Islam headquarters on Monday before being put on an aircraft to the country’s second largest city, Chittagong. Police said, however, that Shafi had not been arrested.
Tens of thousands of Hefazaat supporters, demanding an anti-blasphemy law with provision for the death penalty, rallied near a commercial district of Dhaka early on Monday.
Violence soon began spilling beyond the city, with at least two police officers and a border guard reported dead in Narayanganj, about 20km outside Dhaka.
At least 24 people have reportedly been killed in clashes on Monday alone.
More than 10,000 forces drawn from police, the elite Rapid Action Battalion and paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh jointly launched a drive late on Sunday to clear demonstrators from a major thoroughfare in Dhaka.
The security forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas when they launched the eviction drive.
But while the main street was largely cleared, protesters scattered into side streets and continued to battle police, officials said early on Monday.
The protesters had announced their determination to shut down the main business hub Motijheel until the government accepted their demands.
Demonstrators attacked the headquarters of the country’s Awami League, set fire to more than 100 shops and at least 50 parked cars, and vandalised many other buildings.
Supporters of Hefazaat carried sticks and had blocked major entry points to the city, sealing off Dhaka.
Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh prime minister, has said the existing laws already have sufficient safeguards to address the protesters’ concerns.
She said on Friday, that the government “will not allow any chaos in the name of Islam, a religion of peace”.