Police halt B'desh protest over magazine cartoon

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DHAKA, Sep 19 (Reuters) Baton-wielding police broke up a protest by hundreds of Islamists today in the Bangladeshi capital against a magazine which published a cartoon they said hurt Muslims' religious feelings, witnesses said.

Police waded in to halt a march by about 500 demonstrators chanting ''death to the editor'' and ''hang the cartoonist'' near Dhaka's national mosque.

Police said the march could not go ahead under the current state of emergency, imposed when an army-backed interim government took charge in January after months of political violence.

The protest came two days after the offending cartoon was printed in ''Alpin'', a weekly magazine published by Prothom Alo, the country's leading Bangla-language daily.

Police arrested the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, at his Dhaka home yesterday, after Muslim religious leaders complained.

The Information Ministry said it had seized copies of the offending magazine issue.

The interim government has pledged to punish the offenders, but urged the people to remain calm and show patience.

''Definitely it is a conspiracy to ignite unrest in the country. The government will punish the offenders,'' Mainul Husein, adviser to the interim government in charge of the law and information ministries, told Muslim leaders yesterday.

The Prothom Alo has published an apology.

The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami Party in a statement today said the left-leaning daily had ''intentionally printed the cartoon to hurt Muslims''.

The statement asked the people and the country to remain aware of the ''ill intention'' of the newspaper.

REUTERS SG KP1813

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