by Syed Zainul Abedin and Naim-Ul-Karim
DHAKA, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- More than a fortnight had passed since thousands of Bangladeshis had gathered in Dhaka's busy Shahbag Square demanding capital punishment to criminals who allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani forces in 1971 to prevent an independent Bangladesh.
The protesters in the iconic Shahbag, now christened "Projonmo Chattar" (Generation Square), chanted slogans and waved placards in their round-the-clock protest movement that started Feb. 5.
The protesters'demand was rekindled after Ahmed Rajib Haidar, an activist of ongoing Shahbagh movement, was stabbed near his house on Friday night.
"My father was a valiant freedom fighter. So, I want all the rajakars (collaborators) to be punished in the same way as they tortured or killed our freedom fighters," said Anindita Islam, a protester who talked to Xinhua during the demonstration.
Frustrated by a war crimes verdict, Islam, along with scores of youths first gathered at the Square under the banner of "Bloggers and Online Activist Network" hours after the International Crimes Tribunal-2 sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary general of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party, to life imprisonment for his war crimes.
Protesters painted murals on the roads leading to Shahbag Square, drew cartoons and hanged effigies of war crime suspects, including Mollah.
"Young bloggers, politicians, social and cultural activists raised their voices together in protest against the verdict.We staged rallies. We have expressed our reaction," said Khan Asaduzzaman Masum, coordinator of the movement.
"People expected death penalty for Abdul Quader Mollah," Masum said further agitating Shahbagh protesters who have shouted slogans and staged plays to dramatize their dissatisfaction over the verdict.
The protesters tagged a ring of shoes as symbol of their hatred and raised in the square a 25-foot long snake-shaped effigy of Jamaat's former chief Golam Azam, considered mastermind of war crimes.
"We are expressing our demands by speeches, group songs and reciting poetry," said Masum, also an ex-president of Bangladesh Student Union, a left-leaning political organization.
The demonstration, which began at the initiative of some youths, has since been transformed into a people's movement that has spread across the country and among Bangladeshis living abroad.
"Even abroad, Bangladeshi people are following our protests," said Masum.
He said that Jahanara Imam started this movement and they are just perpetuating her legacy. "We, the young protesters, are determined to complete her dream, so we are now on the streets," Masum said.
Jahanara Imam, a writer and political activist, widely known as "Shaheed Janani" (Mother of Martyrs), is remembered for her efforts to bring to trial those accused of committing war crimes in the Bangladesh liberation war.
Although Imam died in 1994 she left behind many who fought for freedom such as prominent actor Raisul Islam Asad who has since inspired youths of a new generation to demand capital punishment for those who committed crimes against humanity.
"We think that the verdict for war crimes was not right. So the movement started. This movement has spread around the country," said Asad, who joined the movement of youths from the very first day.
"The whole Bangladesh is now demanding capital punishment for the war crimes. We want to uproot them (the collaborators) from our country," Asad added.
On Wednesday, protesters in Shahbag floated letters written for 1971 martyrs with hundreds of balloons, which is part of their daily activities to drum up support for their demands including a ban on Jamaat from politics and capital punishment to Mollah.
Mollah's party Jamaat allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani forces in 1971 to prevent an independent Bangladesh. Mollah, however, maintained that he is a victim of a political vendetta.
But Jamaat, which faces a possible ban as Bangladesh Parliament, has retaliated by showing its muscle power on the streets as part of its countrywide counter-protest to what it termed the " government-sponsored" rally at Shahbagh Square.
After returning to power in January 2009, Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh's independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, established the first tribunal in March 2010, almost 40 years after the 1971 fight for independence from Pakistan.