DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh on Friday (May 26) removed a controversial statue which religious radicals claim represents an "un-Islamic" Greek goddess from outside the country's highest court.
Work to take down the statue, which is less than six months old, in front of the Supreme Court in Dhaka was supervised by its sculptor Mrinal Haque.
"This is a slap in the face of progressive people in this country," Haque said, as dozens of young secular activists staged a protest as the statue was removed amid heavy security.
The statue of "lady justice" has ruffled feathers in the Muslim-majority nation, with hardliners staging massive protests in recent months against what they say is a Greek goddess unbefitting of Bangladesh.
Protesters wanted the statue of the robe-clad, blindfolded woman holding scales, said to represent justice, destroyed and replaced with a Koran, despite Bangladesh's secular constitution.
But the country's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leads the secular Awami League party, apparently backed the Islamists by expressing her dislike for the statue.
Hasina, who had kept the furore at arms length, broke her silence last month after inviting top Islamist leaders to her residence where she described the statue as "ridiculous".
"I don't like it myself. It's being called a Greek statue, but how did a Greek statue get here?" she said .
Analysts said Hasina's stand on the statue was part of her efforts to woo the Islamists and the country's conservative rural electorates ahead of the general election, expected to be held sometimes next year.
Her policy shift has shocked secular groups, who consider it further evidence of creeping Islamisation as hardline elements push for Bangladeshi society to more closely reflect its Muslim traditions.
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.