Warnings of clashes ahead of Martyr’s Day midnight ceremony in Whitechapel

Violent clashes could mar a ceremony tonight commemorating those who died fighting to protect the Bengali language 61 years ago, an MP has warned.

MP for Poplar and Limehouse Jim Fitzpatrick has appealed for calm amid fears that protests on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, could trigger clashes as tensions spill over to the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets.

Ahead of the ceremony, due to be held in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel, Mr Fitzpatrick expressed fears that two rival factions could hijack the ceremony to promote their own causes.

“I understand that many people in our Bangladeshi community can strongly relate to the protests”, he said.

“I encourage all those attending the ceremony to say no to anyone who seeks to hijack the event for their own hostile ends. We must send a message that violence has no place in our community or on the streets of Dhaka.”

Police said they would work in cooperation with stewards from Tower Hamlets Council, which owns the park, to ensure the event passed peacefully.

A spokesman said events in Bangladesh may result in a higher turn-out for the annual ceremony than in previous years, but insisted there is an “appropriate policing plan in place for public safety purposes”.

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The ceremony will commemorate students and activists who gave their lives on February 21 1952 when Pakistani police opened fire on them during a protest for equal status for their mother tongue of Bengali.

Prior to Bangladesh gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971, Urdu had been imposed as the sole language for the country.

More regularly known as “Martyrs Day”, the anniversary is also now recognised by the United Nations as International Mother Language Day.

The ceremony is to be held at the Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel Road, where gates will open from 11pm tonight.