Thursday, September 22, 2011

Police overwhelms Bangladesh opposition from street violence

SALEEM SAMAD

Thousands of batons-wielding riot police overwhelmed the opposition from engaging in street violence during the dawn to dusk countrywide shutdown on Thursday.

Massive presence of riot police and mobile magistrate courts frustrated the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from holding street agitation. Also the like-minded political partners including Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami were visibly absent in the street, witnesses said.

The opposition and its partners called a countrywide lockdown in protest of police action against its alliance Islamist partner last Tuesday during a demonstration demanding release of their key five leaders detained as war crimes suspects during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic 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 and barred them from holding “peaceful” protest marches. The party headquarter was physically blocked by barbed wire fences by police wearing bullet-proof vests and tear-gas throwing guns.

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

However, the police spokesperson scoffed off the inflated figure of detained activists and also the number of wounded persons. The police spokespersons, however could not give the number of activists and leaders detained.

Alamgir came down on the government to set up mobile courts during the strike, which he dubbed as “undemocratic” and “infringement of fundamental rights to protest”.

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

It is expected that the opposition chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia on Sept. 27 from a public rally will announce anti-government program to oust the ruling party from power.

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