Dhaka (AFP) – 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 complain are discriminatory quotas for government jobs in favour of special groups.
It was one of the biggest protests faced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her decade in power, and the government agreed later on Monday to review the quota system.
Following the violence that erupted Sunday and continued into the early hours of Monday, classes at Dhaka University ground to a halt as thousands occupied the main square chanting “Reform, reform!”
Protests spread with students at state-run universities in Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal, Rangpur, Sylhet and Savar boycotting classes and staging sit-ins, police and media said.
At Jahangirnagar University in Savar, where more than 1,000 students demonstrated, protests turned violent with more than 30 injured in clashes with police.
Fifteen students remained in hospital for treatment, said Zahidur Rahmab, a spokesman for Enam Medical College Hospital in Savar.
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.
Dhaka University students said they would continue their fight.
“We won’t leave the streets unless our demands are met. This is all about dignity. We are not afraid of bullets,” said Abdullah Bhuiyan, a 22-year-old English student.
Another student, Saimon Rahman, said quotas meant young graduates missed out on government jobs: “We want a merit-based society. We want equal opportunities for all,” he said.
Students burned furniture and set lengths of bamboo alight but no fresh clashes were reported after the overnight scuffles turned Dhaka University into a battleground.
Hundreds of police patrolled key entry points to the campus.
– Cars set alight –
Organisers in Dhaka said they had been holding peaceful protests Sunday when police started firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and used batons and water cannon to clear a central square.
As violence spread across the campus, thousands of male and female students engaged in pitched battles with officers.
“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.
Hasina ordered the job quota system be reviewed after meeting with her cabinet Monday, said senior minister Obaidul Quader.
“The government does not have a rigid stance on this (issue),” Quader said.
Hasan Al Mamun, leader of the student group behind the demonstrations, told AFP they had postponed further protest action for the month in the wake of the government’s decision.
He earlier said tens of thousands of students joined the protests nationwide Monday. Police declined to estimate the number.
Al Mamun said the quota for top-grade jobs should be reduced to 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 in the past rejected demands to slash the quotas.