– by AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Dhaka: Bangladesh has sacked a top minister after his criticism of the Muslim pilgrimage of Haj triggered protests by Islamists who declared him an apostate and set a 24-hour deadline to replace him.
Abdul Latif Siddique, the country’s telecommunications minister, who is in New York accompanying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, made the comments which were aired by local television stations.
Siddique said: “I am dead against Haj and Tablig Jamaat. Two million people have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj. Haj is a waste of manpower. Those who perform Haj do not have any productivity. They deduct from the economy, spend a lot of money abroad.”
The comments drew immediate protests from the group Hefajat-e-Islam whose leaders called him “an apostate” and set a 24-hour deadline to the government to sack him from the Cabinet.
A senior official told AFP Siddique would be removed but he did not comment whether it was linked to demand by the Islamists.
“The decision has been taken to remove him from the Cabinet,” the official from the Prime Minister’s Office said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He added the decision would be effective after Hasina returns home.
At a New York rally where Siddique was the lone speaker on Sunday, he was also heard making critical comments about Hasina’s influential son and technology adviser, Sajeeb Wazed Joy. “Who is Joy? Joy is not part of the government.”
He also slammed the non-political Islamic group, Tablig Jamaat, millions of whose followers congregate outside the Bangladeshi capital each year in what authorities called the second largest Muslim gathering after the Haj.
He said the around two million people who gathered “don’t do any work except halting traffic movement throughout the country,” Siddiqui said.
There was no comment from the Tablig Jamaat.