Facing a coordinated attack from the opposition, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, firmly rejected the demand for a new anti-blasphemy law to punish those who defame Islam and its prophet.

Reacting to the blasphemy law by Hefajat-e Islam, a newly floated organisation which on April 6 organised a long march and held a massive rally in Dhaka, Ms. Hasina, in an exclusive interview to the BBC, remarked that existing laws of Bangladesh were sufficient to punish anyone who attempted to insult religion.

Supporters of Hefazat had placed forward 13 demands, seen by liberals as Taliban-inspired, giving the government three weeksto implement. Failure would result in a siege on May 5, they threatened.

The demands — contradictory to Bangladeshi Constitution — include death penalty for those guilty of blasphemy; barring women from working with men; and stoppage of all cultural activities defaming Islam. Calling Bangladesh “a secular democracy”, Ms. Hasina said: “So each and every religion has the right to practice their religion freely and fair. But it is not fair to hurt anybody’s religious feeling. Always we try to protect every religious sentiment.”

She also defended her government’s decision to arrest four bloggers last week on suspicions of harming religious sentiment.

Rejecting calls for a neutral interim caretaker administration to oversee parliamentary polls, she also firmly dismissed speculation on declaration of emergency.