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Police across Bangladesh are scouring the country for an outspoken woman writer who is in hiding after Muslim clerics said she should be put to death for blaspheming Islam.

The writer, Taslima Nasreen, 32, slipped out of her apartment in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, a few hours before police officers arrived there to arrest her on a blasphemy charge, reports from that country said."We hope that she will not come to any harm," said a spokesman for Viking-Penguin India, her English-language publishers in India.

It is not clear whether Nasreen, who is known for her unconventional views on sex and marriage in conservative South Asia, is trying to flee the country.

Nasreen, who is one of her country's best-known literary figures, became the focus of bitter attacks by clerics in Bangladesh after the publication of a book on the tragedy overwhelming a Hindu family in her country after Hindu militants destroyed a mosque in India in 1992.

Hindus are a minority in Bangladesh, which has an Islamic constitution, and there have been complaints of violations of their rights over the past decade. Many continue to slip across into India and settle with relatives.

Last week the anger against Nasreen, who has been married and divorced three times, spilled onto the streets of Dhaka after Islamic militants demanded her death for allegedly saying that the Koran, the holy book of the Muslims, was out of date. The writer later denied having made the statement to an Indian newspaper.

In some parts of the city, militants spread through the streets, carrying a noose and shouting that the writer be put to death.

The same day, a local court in the city issued a warrant of arrest against Nasreen for deliberately hurting religious sentiments.

Nasreen is a former gynecologist and has attracted attention for a number of her views.