Bangladesh group to hold 'rainbow rally' despite threats

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladeshi rights activists on Wednesday, April 13, vowed to hold a "rainbow rally" to mark the Bengali New Year, despite security fears and threats by Islamists who say the secular festival is un-Islamic.

Roopbaan, a group which promotes freedom of love and gender equality in the Muslim-majority nation, said its members would be part of the colorful new year parade to be held in central Dhaka on Thursday.

"We would like to call it nothing other than Rainbow Rally, or Rongdhonu Jatra, to celebrate diversity and friendship on the first day of Bengali new year. All sorts of people will join," an organiser told AFP.

The organizer said there were online posts by Islamists against the rally, which is being organised by Roopbaan for the third time, and a Facebook page was opened with calls to beat up parade participants.

The threats come after hardline clerics branded the Bengali new year celebrations, in which people carry masks of animals and colourful garlands, as "un-Islamic and Haram (forbidden)".

Police said thousands of officers would be deployed for the annual street parade and in central Dhaka, where traditionally hundreds of thousands of revellers swarm.

Authorities have banned outdoor evening concerts and masks, commonly worn during the new year parades, as part of increased security.

Police have also stepped up their hunt for Islamic militants as Bangladesh reels from a series of deadly attacks on religious minorities and foreigners in recent months. 

In 2001 a new year bomb blast in Dhaka's Ramna Park killed 10 people. Eight Islamist militants were sentenced to death for the attack.

Roopbaan is also a platform for promoting the rights of LGBT Bangladeshis, seeking to spread awareness and tolerance in a nation where same-sex marriage is a punishable offense. –