Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bangladesh opposition to enforce shutdown after clashes with Islamist activists

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH'S OPPOSITION alliance has called for a countrywide shutdown on Thursday after hundreds of leaders and activists, mostly from an Islamist party, were arrested after violent protests.

On Tuesday a demonstration by Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami turned violent when the activists clashed with riot police in the capital. The Islamists marched in the city center to demand the release of five key leaders detained for alleged war crimes committed during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic Pakistan in 1971.

Nearly 500 Islamist activists were detained in the countrywide swoop. Many of their central leaders were also picked up by plainclothes detectives at midnight. Police produced the detained activists before magistrate court and took 183 on remand for questioning about incidents of arson and vandalism in which nearly a score of vehicles were torched.

Police sued more than 3,000 activists of the Islamist party for attacking riot police and causing physical injuries.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP), declared the shutdown and other alliance partners extended their political support, including the Islamist party.

Senior BNP leaders on Wednesday bitterly criticized the government for a number of offenses, including hiking the prices of fuel and furnace oil and. repression of opposition activists. They asked the current government to quit power and hold fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government.

Alamgir warned that the government would be held responsible if it creates any hindrance during the dawn-to dusk-shutdown on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Shahara Khatun on Wednesday said 12 mobile courts will be deployed in seven major cities including the capital during Thursday's general strike to ensure summary justice to any offenders.

An estimated 11,000 additional riot police will be deployed to ensure safety of property and the security of citizens during the strike, a senior police officer told journalists.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com