Opposition enforces fresh 72-hour blockade across Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s main opposition BNP and its right wing allies on Saturday began to enforce another 72-hour nationwide blockade demanding postponement of upcoming general elections, a day after ending a deadly protest campaign.
“The countrywide 72-hour road, rail and waterways blockade will start from 6:00 am on Sunday and last until Monday 6 am,” BNP joint secretary general and spokesman Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told media men at the party office on Friday night.
The fresh blockade was called demanding cancellation of the election schedule setting January 5, 2014 for voting and to mount pressure on the Awami League government to release their detained leaders and activists.
But in a predawn raid police arrested Mr. Rizvi raiding the BNP central office, while opposition activists launched the second spell of blockade exploding crude bombs and staging brief street marches in the capital.
Witnesses said plainclothesmen backed by police in riot gear arrested Mr. Rizvi entering into the BNP office breaking open the main gate as the incident indicated a tough government stance against the opposition escalating tensions.
Most of the blockade casualties and act of sabotages were reported from outside Dhaka during the previous 71-hour blockade by the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance with fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, that has claimed 22 lives across the country.
Meanwhile, the death of Jamaat activist on Saturday took the toll to 23 in the past one week of violence.
But the capital Dhaka apparently witnessed the worst part of the violence as at the last leg of the blockade, arsonists set afire a bus in the capital with 19 passengers on Thursday while two of the burn victims died later.
The opposition denied setting fire to the bus, blaming the government, as state minister for home Shamsul Haque Tuku called the arsonists “animals in human disguise”.
Police on Friday filed cases against 17 BNP leaders including acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Rizvi on charges of instigating the arson, prompting BNP chief and ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia to issue a statement demanding immediate withdrawal of the cases.
The opposition first called the blockade after the election commission announced the poll plan on Monday while the opposition protests in the subsequent three days witnessed massive clashes injuring hundreds across the country.
The BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance is demanding installation of a “non-party” government for election oversight with an “acceptable person” as its head.
The ruling Awami League rejected the demand calling it “unconstitutional” while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the opposition to join the poll-time all-party cabinet.
The dispute was infuriated after the independent election commission on Monday announced the schedule for the 10th general elections setting January 5, 2014 for voting, a plan immediately rejected by the opposition.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed at the time said the statutory body waited for days for a settlement of disputes among the major parties but was forced to announce the schedule to comply with a constitutional obligation to stage the polls by January 24, 2014.
According to the schedule, December 2 is the last date for submission of nomination papers, meaning the opposition must decide its stance on the polls and nominate candidates in next two days while they so far showed no visible effort for the election preparedness while the ruling party on Friday announced names of their nominees for the 300 constituencies.
Speaking at a rally after a mass prayer for those who were killed during the 71-hour blockade in front of the party office, Mr. Alamgir again urged the election commission to shelve the poll plans until the major parties resolved their dispute.
Ms. Hasina, who heads the Awami League, however, earlier told a party meeting that the elections would be held in due time and urged people to cast their votes and alleged BNP was trying to evade the polls sensing their defeat.
According to one estimate, political violence since January this year has killed 348 people in Bangladesh.