DHAKA - Bangladesh authorities on Saturday said they fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Islamist protesters who defied a ban on demonstrations against a US-made anti-Islam film and hurled stones at police.
The clash erupted after the protesters from an alliance of 12 Islamist parties tried to hold a rally in central Dhaka despite a 24-hour ban on gatherings in the area, police said.
Hundreds of protesters attacked policemen, torched a motorbike and damaged a police van, forcing police "to fire tear gas shells to disperse them", Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP.
"They defied our ban and tried to stage a protest against the anti-Islam film. At one stage, they started pelting stones at policemen," he said, adding that police arrested several people including some leaders of the group.
The online edition of the country's top-circulated Daily Star said at least 30 people were injured in the clash and that police arrested 40 protesters.
Police could not be immediately reached to confirm the report.
Rahman added that the alliance which staged the protest has called a nationwide strike on Sunday against the film mocking the Prophet Mohammed that has triggered violent demonstrations across the Muslim world.
Some 90 percent of Bangladesh's 153 million people are Muslims. The impoverished South Asian nation is home to the world's fourth-largest Muslim population.
Protests in Bangladesh against the film, Innocence of Muslims, and French cartoons caricaturing the prophet published earlier in the week had until the latest demonstration been peaceful.
On Friday, some 10,000 Bangladeshis took to the streets of Dhaka to demonstrate against the film outside the country's largest mosque. A protest of similar size was held the previous Friday.
The Bangladesh government has denounced the film and blocked YouTube, where the film has been posted, so that the video cannot be viewed in the country.