Bangladesh news February 10, 2013

Top cricketers visit Dhaka protest rally

Bangladesh's top cricketers and officials, led by the captain Mushfiqur Rahim and board president Nazmul Hassan, visited the scene of a high-profile protest movement in central Dhaka on Sunday following public calls for their participation. Others who were present at the show of solidarity included Mashrafe Mortaza and Mohammad Ashraful.

The protesters are demanding severe punishment for war criminals who had collaborated with Pakistani forces during the war for independence in 1971. An International Crimes Tribunal had been set up in 2010 to try these collaborators, many of whom are politicians.

On February 5, the Tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah, a convicted war criminal, to life imprisonment in two of the five cases filed against him. Hours after the judgment, five people took to Shahbagh, an intersection near Dhaka University, to demand stricter punishment to those who had been charged (directly and indirectly) with sedition, murder, rape and overall collaboration during the war in 1971. Since then it has attracted tremendous response from the rest of the country as more than a million people have joined the protests in six days.

After a grand rally on Friday attended by nearly a million people, there were calls for the cricketers' participation in the protest. After a discussion with the BCB, the players decided to come under the official banner of the national cricket team in solidarity with the protesters. The team walked in from the eastern side of the Shahbagh intersection, now known as the Projonmo Chottor, and were led towards a truck from where many of the protesters - mainly students, bloggers, professionals and members of the general public - voice their opinion and demands.

Mushfiqur, Mashrafe, Ashraful, Nasir Hossain, Abdur Razzak and former captain Habibul Bashar got up on the truck along with the board president and several BCB members. Others like former captain Akram Khan, former cricketer Jahangir Shah Badshah and current players Nazmul Hossain, Elias Sunny, Mominul Haque and Sohag Gazi soaked in the atmosphere. Some were seen walking around the square, and speaking to people and even gave autographs to school and college students. None of the players officially spoke and remained at the protest scene for around 20 minutes, before walking back towards the bus, accompanied by thousands of people.

Later Hassan, the BCB chief, said that the team had decided to visit to lend "solidarity" to the protests.

"Their presence here is very exciting," said Miraj, a college student who has been coming to Shahbagh for the past few days. "To see our national heroes here would mean a lot. I know they are not politically involved, so it is more inspiring to see them here."

Although some of the ministers and political leaders have visited the protests and there have been similar demonstrations all over Bangladesh and around the world among expatriate Bangladeshis, the visit of the cricket team has been the most high-profile yet.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent