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Old February 21, 2013, 09:30 AM
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Rallying in Shahbagh Square, Young Bangladesh Finds Its Voice

A young girl’s call pierces through the din of the packed square. Like the macabre billboards that loom above featuring bearded old men in nooses, and the blood red headbands worn by scores of participants, her demands are direct and full-throated: “Hang the war criminals and long live Bangladesh!” The fact that she and most of her fellow protesters were not yet born when the crimes at issue were committed, more than four decades ago during the country’s bitter war for independence, is beside the point. “This is a shame on our nation,” says Nidhi Hossain, the 13-year-old girl holding the megaphone. “We must get rid of these criminals once and for all so we can move forward.”

Bangladeshis protest to demand the death penalty for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Kader Mullah in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Feb. 11, 2013

Protests — even very, very large ones — are nothing new in the world’s most densely populated city. Tens of thousands are known to take to the streets to chant down rivals or the latest spike in petrol prices. The difference with the now two-week-old Shahbagh movement, say those old enough to know, is that it has managed to transcend Bangladesh’s stale party politics, religion and the age divide unlike any mass agitation in recent memory. While the ruling Awami League party has tried to co-opt some of the momentum and the opposition is crying foul, all have taken a backseat to a frustrated young generation that is finding its voice.

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