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Asia

Dhaka blames recent Facebook riots on Rohingya

Bangladeshi authorities claim to have made nearly 300 arrests in connection with an outburst of violence over the weekend. Rioters had taken to the streets over an alleged 'insult to Islam.'

Hundreds of homes and Buddhist as well as Hindu temples and a significant amount of personal property were destroyed in southeastern Bangladesh over the weekend in riots that erupted on Saturday and carried on until late Sunday. The unrest is said to have broken out over a picture of a burnt Koran which was posted on the social networking website Facebook.

"The attacks on temples and houses in Buddhist localities in Ramu and neighboring areas in Cox's Bazar (district) were perpetrated by radical Islamists," Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters in Dhaka, adding that "Rohingyas and political opponents of the government were also involved in the attacks."

He said the attacks had been well planned and carried out deliberately.

Bangladeshi Buddhist monks form a human chain during a protest against attacks on Buddhist temples and homes; Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Buddhist monks protested against the attacks

Sushil Barua from the minority Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Welfare Front (BHBCWF) accused the police and the authorities of standing idly by and taking no action while the attacks were going on. One of the victims filed a complaint against the police on Tuesday in Superior Court in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

Barua was of the opinion that Interior Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir played a key role in the violence by directly supporting Islamist groups in the region; for example, during the mass protests against the recent anti-Islam video which broke out in the Muslim world a fortnight ago.

The Rohingya conflict

While the government in Dhaka cracked down on the troublemakers and announced on Tuesday it had arrested nearly 300 people, Barua said the response was too slow. "The government has failed in its leadership role. The people are deeply disgruntled and so the government is trying to steer the attention into other corners by fueling religious unrest at the administrative level."

Bangladesh's Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir (3rd L) visits a burned temple in Cox's Bazar September 30, 2012. Photo: REUTERS/Stringer

Bangladesh's interior minister inspected the scene, but his visit did not stop the violence

The majority of Bangladesh's 150-160 million inhabitants is Muslim. Less than one percent is made up of Buddhists; 0.3 percent is Christian and around 9 percent is Hindu. However, in the area where the riots took place - Cox's Bazar in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region - Buddhists compromise 45 percent of the population.

Bangladesh's South borders Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - and India. Communal tensions have been higher than usual since deadly clashes broke out in nearby Myanmar in June between the Muslim Rohingya minority group, whom Myanmar considers Bangladeshi and thus not Burmese citizens, and Buddhists. It prompted a larger-than-usual wave of migration, with hundreds of thousands of Rohingya seeking asylum in Bangladesh. The United Nations' Human Rights Commission spoke of a humanitarian crisis when Bangladesh turned many of the asylum seekers away and for a time closed its borders to them.

Bangladesh has been trying for years to highlight the problem as an international crisis and transfer the responsibility to international organizations; the Rohingya are also outcasts in their new home. The government has even banned NGOs from directly helping the minority group.

A statue of Lord Buddha is left standing amidst the torched ruins of the Lal Ching Buddhist temple at Ramu, some 350 kilometres (216 miles) from the capital Dhaka on September 30, 2012. Photo: STR/AFP/GettyImages

Some fear tension was fuelled by a sectarian conflict in Myanmar

After the riots were quelled, Interior Minister Alamgir underscored the government's suspicions of the Rohingya, saying "We have made sure that the Rohingya refugees cannot communicate with the locals without our permission."

Full investigation

The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) has demanded a full investigation into the attacks. Its deputy general-secretary, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, said: "One must pose the question - even after a visit to the area by the interior minister - why the wave of violence did not stop. We demand an investigation by a neutral judge." Even the BNP's former Islamist coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami, condemned the attacks.

The latest events are being heatedly discussed on Facebook, Twitter and in countless blogs. The majority opinion: "Bangladesh belongs to all Bengals living there, regardless of their religious affiliation."

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