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Antiblasphemy rallies spark violence in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Police banned all rallies in Bangladesh’s capital for the rest of the day Monday after at least 20 people died in clashes between police and large numbers of Islamic hard-liners demanding that the government enact an antiblasphemy law, officials said.

A police official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said 13 people, including two police and a paramilitary soldier, were killed in clashes in Kanchpur just outside Dhaka. He said seven others died in Motijheel, a commercial area of the capital.

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The protesters blocked roads with burning tires and logs during more than five hours of clashes. They also attacked a police station and set fire to at least 30 vehicles, including police trucks, private Ekattar TV reported.

The private United News of Bangladesh reported that the violence erupted after security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in the central commercial district.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police said in a statement that all rallies and protests had been banned in the city until midnight Monday for fear of more clashes.

In a separate development Monday, Bangladeshi police said they are investigating possible murder charges against Mohammed Sohel Rana, the owner of a shoddily built factory that collapsed nearly two weeks ago.

Officials said Monday that the death toll from the disaster had reached 675. Protests over working conditions have also shaken the government.

Rejecting the demand for an antiblasphemy law, the Muslim-majority nation has insisted that Bangladesh is governed by secular law.

On Sunday, police dispersed stone-throwing activists who were among thousands rallying around Dhaka.

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