Saturday, September 24, 2011

Police overwhelm Bangladesh opposition from street violence

Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj - Police arrest a member of Jamaat-e-Islami during a clash in Dhaka September 19, 2011. Street marches by members of Bangladesh's biggest Islamic party seeking the release of its leaders from jail turned violent across the country on Monday, with at least 70 people wounded in clashes, witnesses said

SALEEM SAMAD

THOUSANDS OF baton-wielding Bangladeshi riot police overwhelmed opposition protestors Thursday, forestalling street violence during a countrywide dawn-to-dusk shutdown.

A massive presence of riot police and mobile magistrate courts frustrated the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from holding street agitation. Political partners sympathetic to the BNP, including Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, were visibly absent in the street, witnesses said.

The opposition and its partners had called for the lockdown in protest of police action against its alliance Islamist partner last Tuesday during a demonstration demanding release of five key leaders detained as war crimes suspects during Bangladesh's bloody war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Water cannon vehicles and armored personnel carriers (APC) parked at strategic crossroads of the capital Dhaka gave the message of zero-tolerance to street violence.

Opposition leaders lamented that they were literally besieged by police, who barred them from holding protest marches. BNP party headquarters were physically blocked by barbed wire fences by police wearing bullet-proof vests and wielding tear-gas throwing guns.

Although political activities were largely limited on Thursday, opposition leader Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir claimed at a press conference later in the day that more than 400 people were hurt by police and another 500 opposition activists, including five senior leaders, were detained during a peaceful procession.

A police spokesperson scoffed at the protestors' claims about the number of detained activists as well as the number of those injured. The spokesperson, however, could not give the number of activists and leaders detained.

Alamgir came down on the government setting up mobile courts during the strike, dubbing the temporary facilities “undemocratic” and an “infringement of fundamental rights to protest.”

The opposition leader announced a countrywide demonstration next Saturday in protest against the death of a local pro-opposition youth leader in Barisal in south Bangladesh allegedly by ruling party hooligans during striking hours on Thursday.

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