Thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims stage protests over statue

Supporters of the 'Islami Andolan Bangladesh' Islamist political organization shout slogans as they gather for a rally in front of the National Mosque at Paltan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 21, 2017.
Supporters of the 'Islami Andolan Bangladesh' Islamist political organization shout slogans as they gather for a rally in front of the National Mosque at Paltan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 21, 2017. PHOTO: EPA
Supporters of the 'Islami Andolan Bangladesh' Islamist political organization attend Friday noon prayers as they gather for a rally in front of the National Mosque at Paltan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 21, 2017.
Supporters of the 'Islami Andolan Bangladesh' Islamist political organization attend Friday noon prayers as they gather for a rally in front of the National Mosque at Paltan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 21, 2017. PHOTO: EPA
Activists from an Islamist group wave a flag as they take part in a protest in Dhaka on April 21, 2017, which calls for the removal of a statue in front of The Supreme Court.
Activists from an Islamist group wave a flag as they take part in a protest in Dhaka on April 21, 2017, which calls for the removal of a statue in front of The Supreme Court. PHOTO: AFP
Activists from an Islamist group offer Friday prayers prior to participating in a protest in Dhaka on April 21, 2017, which calls for the removal of a statue in front of The Supreme Court.
Activists from an Islamist group offer Friday prayers prior to participating in a protest in Dhaka on April 21, 2017, which calls for the removal of a statue in front of The Supreme Court. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Thousands of supporters of a hardline Bangladeshi Muslim group staged protests on Friday (April 21) calling for the removal or destruction of a controversial statue from the nation's highest court.

The statue of "lady justice" has ruffled feathers in the Muslim-majority nation, with hardliners demonstrating in recent weeks against what they say is a Greek god unbefitting Bangladesh.

Protesters want the statue of the blindfolded woman holding scales - said to represent justice - destroyed and replaced with a Koran, despite Bangladesh's secular constitution.

Supporters of Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IAB) gathered after Friday prayers outside the country's national mosque, Baitul Mukarram, in central Dhaka, chanting and wielding placards with slogans such as "Demolish the statue on the court premises".

"Nearly 10,000 protesters attended the rally. Security has been beefed up at the area," local police chief Rafiqul Islam told AFP.

IAB spokesman Atiqur Rahman said they also wanted the removal of the country's chief justice because of his "procrastination" in removing the statue.

"We want the statue of the Greek Goddess to be removed immediately," he told AFP.

Last week, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a meeting of top Islamic seminary teachers that she too disliked the statue, boosting the hardliners' stance.

Secular rights groups accused her of "kowtowing" to the Islamists in preparation for an early general election.

Court officials have defended the statue as a symbol of justice.

Conservative Bangladesh has experienced increasing tensions between hardliners and secularists in recent years, suffering a spate of killings of atheist bloggers, religious minorities and foreigners.