Seven countries, including the United States, Britain and Canada, condemned the political violence in Bangladesh that killed at least four people after clashes broke out in the aftermath of an opposition rally calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the ruling Awami League clashed a day after the BNP called for a nationwide strike against police action that forced the party to abruptly end its grand rally against PM Hasina on Saturday.
The diplomatic missions of the seven countries – the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Norway – expressed concern at the violence, urging all parties to “exercise restraint” and “eschew violence”, in a joint statement issued on Monday.
The countries also called on all stakeholders in Bangladesh to “create conditions for free, fair, participatory and peaceful elections”. They also extended their condolences for the loss of life and to those injured.
What’s happening in Bangladesh?
At least four people were killed after BNP and Awami League supporters clashed during the nationwide strike, which heightened tensions ahead of Bangladesh’s general elections in January 2024. At least 1,000 people were arrested — among them, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a key opposition figure from the BNP led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
According to police, one activist of the BNP was killed after falling from an under-construction building in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur area when he tried to escape after setting a bus on fire. However, the BNP blamed Awami League activists.
A senior journalist, Rafiq Bhuiyan, who suffered injuries during clashes between police and opposition activists in Dhaka’s Kakrail area on Saturday, succumbed to his injuries on Sunday. Several passenger buses were damaged or set on fire in the capital and elsewhere in the country throughout the day.
On Saturday, the opposition BNP had organised a massive rally demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to allow free and fair elections under a non-party interim government. PM Hasina’s party also held a peace rally in response to the Opposition rally.
Clashes ensued on that day, leaving two dead, including a policeman, and over 200 injured. Several ambulances, other vehicles, including motorbikes, entering the frontal part of Rajarbagh Central Police Hospital and a police booth were burnt.
At the end of the day-long strike, BNP called for a “countrywide blockade” on October 31, November 1 and 2 protesting the killing of the party activists and the arrests of party leaders and activists, including Alamgir.
Paramilitary forces deployed
Riot police overnight raided the BNP’s central office while authorities called out paramilitary troops ahead of the countrywide strike. Paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) deployed 11 platoons or over 300 troops to maintain public order in the capital.
As per reports, police arrested at least 900 leaders and activists of BNP and its far-right ally Jamaat-e-Islami from across the country in the past 24 hours.
Why is BNP agitating?
Notably, Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has been in power for 15 years. On the other hand, the BNP has been mounting protests to press their demands for months, although their ailing leader, Khaleda Zia, a two-time PM, is currently under house arrest after a conviction on corruption charges.
According to the BNP, it is their final attempt to remove Hasina as the election commission prepares to announce the country’s 12th national election. Both sides started their rallies in complete defiance of the conditions by crippling traffic movements.
Khaleda Zia has served as Bangladesh PM two times and is currently being treated at a private hospital for severe chronic ailments. Her elder son Tarique Rahman has been declared a ‘fugitive contact’ with several criminal charges and has taken asylum in London.
The European Union on Sunday said the EU and its member states in Dhaka were deeply saddened to see the loss of life and violence on the streets. Prior to that, Bangladesh’s independent Election Commission said it was yet to see a “favourable environment” for the scheduled January 2024 polls.
(with PTI Inputs)