DHAKA: Tens of thousands of university students marched in cities across Bangladesh on Wednesday in one of the biggest protests faced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her decade in power.
Students fighting against a controversial policy that sets aside government jobs for special groups have united in mass protests rarely seen on such a scale in Bangladesh.
In Dhaka chanting mobs of students blockaded major roads and swarmed Dhaka University, bringing traffic to a standstill in the congested capital of 15 million.
Police were deployed to the university where clashes in recent days left more than 100 students injured by tear gas and rubber bullets.
“There are more than 5,000 protesters at the DU,” a senior Dhaka Metropolitan Police officer told AFP, referring to Bangladesh’s most prestigious university.
Police in Savar, northwest of Dhaka, said an estimated 7,000 students had descended on a major highway linking traffic to the capital, causing chaos.
“They completely blockaded the road,” police inspector Abdul Awal told AFP.
In Chittagong, the second-largest city, students blocked a railway track. Protesters also caused disruptions in the major cities of Khulna, Barisal, Kushtia, Comilla, Mymensingh and Gopalganj.
Protests intensified Wednesday after allegations circulated widely on social media of a violent confrontation between a ruling party activist and a student protest leader.
Demonstrators want the share of top government positions set aside for minority groups and the disabled significantly reduced.
They are also particularly irate that 30 per cent of government positions are reserved for descendants of veterans from Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war.
The government has promised to review the quota system but that caused a rift among demonstrators, with some accepting the assurance and others rejecting it.
A pro-government faction of the student movement had postponed its protest action but left-leaning groups pledged to keep up the fight.
“These job quotas are discriminatory. We want equal opportunities for all,” said Mohammad, who said he missed out on a coveted government job because of the allocation system.
Hasina — whose father was the architect of the Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan — has in the past rejected demands to slash the quotas.