DHAKA - Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been accused of “kowtowing” to Islamists after expressing dislike for a controversial statue that religious radicals want removed from the Supreme Court.

The statue of “lady justice” has ruffled feathers in the Muslim-majority nation, with hardliners staging massive protests in recent weeks against what they say is a Greek god unbefitting Bangladesh.

Protesters want the statue of the blindfolded woman holding scales, said to represent justice, destroyed and replaced with a Quran, despite Bangladesh’s secular constitution. Hasina, who had kept the furore at arms length, broke her silence late Tuesday after inviting top Islamist leaders to her residence where she described the statue as “ridiculous”.

“I don’t like it myself. It’s being called a Greek statue, but how did a Greek statue get here?” she said in comments published in online news portal bdnews24.com.

Court officials have defended the statue as a symbol of justice while secular groups expressed dismay that Hasina and the secular ruling party, the Awami League, was seemingly siding with hardliners on the issue.

“The government and Awami League’s kowtowing to this type of demand will be suicidal for Bangladesh,” Shahriar Kabir, secretary of Bangladesh’s leading secular rights group, told AFP.

In a further major concession to Islamists, Hasina also said Tuesday her government would recognise degrees from hardline madrassas, paving the way for millions of religious scholars to qualify for jobs in public and private sectors.

The prime minister made the announcement after meeting Islamist leaders including the head of Hefazat-e-Islam, a fundamentalist group that has called for gender-segregated workplaces and tough blasphemy laws.