Thousands march in Bangladesh over comments about Islam

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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Thousands of people marched in Bangladesh’s capital on Thursday to demand the governments of Bangladesh and India officially condemn comments by two Indian governing party officials deemed derogatory to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

The march began at the country’s main Baitul Mukarram Mosque but was blocked by police as it headed toward India's Embassy, a few kilometers (miles) away.

The protesters demanded that Muslim-majority nations boycott Indian products and cut off ties with New Delhi, and that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina publicly condemn the comments made earlier by the two officials in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Hasina has maintained warm relations with India. Information and Broadcast Minister Hasan Mahmud told a group of Indian journalists that the dispute is an internal Indian matter, according to reports by Indian media.

As they marched, the protesters chanted “Down with Modi” and “Insult to Islam, will not tolerate.” Many carried placards reading “We love Muhammad.”

After police stopped the march, a group of five people was allowed to head toward the Indian Embassy, according to Shahidul Islam Kabir, a spokesperson for the sponsors of the protest, Islami Andolon Bangladesh. The group vowed to continue its demonstrations.

India's governing party has suspended one of the officials and expelled the other, but protesters say the actions are not enough.

At least five Arab nations have condemned the remarks and lodged official protests against India. Pakistan and Afghanistan also reacted strongly to the comments by the two party officials. They follow increasing violence against India’s Muslim minority by Hindu nationalists who have been emboldened by Modi’s silence about such attacks since he was elected in 2014.