DHAKA (Agencies) - Seeking divine blessing, hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the world held prayers in Bangladesh on Friday, the start of one of the biggest annual gatherings of the faithful after the Hajj to Makkah. The faithful participated in the Juma prayers at the three-day Biswa Ijtema which began on the banks of Turag River in Tongi on Friday. Maulana Jobayerul Haque of India led the prayers with the rows of namazis (worshippers) spilling out of the 160-acre Ijtema ground covered by a gigantic canopy. Meanwhile, two faithful died Thursday night apparently of age-related ailments at the Ijtema. Except those who had arrived earlier, the congregants started to come in thousands since early Thursday from across the country and abroad turning the area some 30km off the capital into a human sea. The Ijtema is organised by the World Tabligh Council as well as Bangladeshs Religious Affairs Ministry. Lectures will be translated into more than half a dozen languages for the international attendees who will camp out in the sprawling venue. Ijtema volunteers said more than 10,000 foreign Muslims had already arrived by Friday morning, and thousands of police and security forces, more than in previous years, have been deployed to protect them, officials said. We have deployed extra force this year as the country has faced continuing threats by militants, including those kill people in the name of Islam, said a senior police officer who declined to be named. As in previous years, Hasina and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia are expected to attend the final Ijtema prayers on Sunday.