COMILLA: A vandalized temple is seen in Comilla yesterday, after hundreds vandalized several Hindu temples across the Muslim-majority country. - AFP

DHAKA: Bangladesh police shot dead four people as hundreds vandalized several Hindu temples across the Muslim-majority country, police said yesterday. Police opened fire on a mob of over 500 people late Wednesday following furor over footage of a Quran being placed on the knee of a figure of the Hindu god Hanuman during a religious festival.

In the main incident, the mob attacked a Hindu temple and clashed with police in the southern town of Hajiganj, leaving four dead and nearly two dozen injured, including 15 police officers, local police chief Milon Mahmud told AFP. A police inspector confirmed the four were shot dead. Police said the local magistrate had ordered a ban on gatherings in the area and seven people had been arrested.

Bangladesh's government ordered a probe into the violence, saying in a statement that anyone involved would be punished and asking people to maintain order: "The government has urged everyone to keep religious harmony, peace and security". Another Hindu temple was attacked in the eastern district of Comilla, where the alleged desecration of the Islamic holy book took place, police inspector Monir Ahmed told AFP. "The situation is peaceful now. Hundreds of policemen, elite Rapid Action Battalion and the border guards have been deployed," he said, adding at least 40 people had been arrested.

Police also clashed with hundreds of people in the northeastern town of Zakiganj after a crowd gathered in the town centre to protest. "Several people and a couple of police officers were injured. The mob attacked and vandalized police and local administrators' cars. We have deployed extra police," deputy police chief Lutfar Rahman said. Mass-circulated The Daily Star newspaper reported that idols of Hindu gods and temples were vandalized in two northern rural districts while authorities increased security in the southern city of Chittagong, which is home to a sizable Hindu population.

Hindus, who make up some 10 percent of Bangladesh's 169 million population, have faced sporadic violence in recent years, often sparked by rumors spread on social media. Mobs vandalized at least five Hindu temples and attacked property in 2016 over a Facebook post mocking one of Islam's holiest sites. Over the past week, the community has been celebrating their largest annual festival, the Durga Puja, which culminates with devotees immersing the idol of the goddess Durga in a river on Friday. - AFP