Millions of Muslims gather in Bangladesh

DHAKA Fri Feb 2, 2007 7:43am GMT

Devotees gathered during sunset on the bank of the river Turag at Tongi near Dhaka, February 1, 2007, to participate in the 'Biswa Ijtema', the second biggest Islamic congregation after the Haj in Mecca. REUTERS/Ashikur Rahman

Devotees gathered during sunset on the bank of the river Turag at Tongi near Dhaka, February 1, 2007, to participate in the 'Biswa Ijtema', the second biggest Islamic congregation after the Haj in Mecca.

Credit: Reuters/Ashikur Rahman

DHAKA (Reuters) - Muslims from around the world descended on Bangladesh on Friday for the annual Bishwa Ijtema (world congregation), the second biggest gathering of Muslims after the Haj, with troops and police maintaining tight security.

Streams of devotees, many carrying food and wrapped in warm clothes, arrived at the venue on the bank of the Turag river at Tongi, north of capital Dhaka.

More than two million Muslims are expected to attend the event, including faithful from the Middle East, India, Pakistan, the United States, Russia and Europe.

Troops used metal detectors and sniffer dogs to prevent possible disruption by militants disguised as devotees.

Bangladesh still faces security threats from outlawed Islamist groups responsible for hundreds of bomb blasts in 2005 that killed 30 people and wounded 150, police said.

A policeman was killed and another injured in a bomb attack at Gazipur, 40 kms (25 miles) north of Dhaka on Tuesday. Police said a militant group was behind the attack, but did not name it.

The Bishwa Ijtema has been held at same site since 1966 and is organised by World Tablig Council, which preaches teachings of Islam and prophet Mohammad.

The event focuses on prayers and meditation and does not allow political discussion, organisers said.

The meeting will end on Sunday with a final prayer and is expected to be attended by government and political leaders including former prime ministers Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.