detail about Bangladesh violence
October 31, 2006 5:23am CST
DHAKA: A decision by Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed on Sunday, to head an interim government to conduct general elections set for January, may exacerbate widespread political violence that has already resulted in 27 deaths over the weekend. The main opposition Awami League Party of former prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has already said that it would continue with the agitations — unabated since the 345-seat parliament was dissolved on Friday — to press for the appointment of a non-partisan leader to run the caretaker government. Ahmed appointed himself head of the caretaker government after a series of discussions with the four main political parties, including the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jatiya Party, failed to produce a consensus. While the President’s largely titular office is supposed to be above party politics, Ahmed has been closely associated with the BNP and, in past elections, been a successful candidate of the ruling party. On Saturday K.M. Hasan, till recently the Chief Justice of the Bangladesh Supreme Court, refused to take up the job after the Awami League accused him of being biased in favour of the BNP. “The person who will be chosen to hold the polls must be neutral,” said Hasina Wajed. “The delay in appointing the chief of the caretaker government is pushing the nation towards a confrontation,” she said, before Ahmed decided to take on the responsibility himself. Hasina Wajed had proposed that Mahmudul Amin Chowdhury, also a former justice of the top court and therefore eligible, be appointed leader of the caretaker government — a device that is supposed to prevent an outgoing government from attempting to influence or rig the polls. To press its demands, the Awami League, leading a 14party opposition combine, has been rampaging through the streets of Dhaka setting fire to vehicles and shops and clashing with the police and supporters of the BNP-led, ruling coalition. The main political rivals fought pitched battles at several places in Dhaka, isolating the bustling capital city of 10 million people, from the rest of the country. Few dared venture outside and the highways remained deserted, crippling life in this impoverished country of 144 million people. “I feel I’ve been kept hostage to the will of the major political parties fighting for power,” a schoolteacher, Shahana Begum, told IPS in Dhaka. On Sunday, hundreds of Awami League activists carrying bamboo poles and oars paraded through the city streets, chanting slogans against Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. Passengers driving into the city were forced to get off the vehicles on the outskirts and walk to get to their destinations. The activists disrupted railway traffic by either halting trains or uprooting tracks. Hundreds of buses and trucks remained stranded on the highways, just outside the city. Khaleda Zia who was to have stepped down on as prime minister on Saturday continued in office because of the uncertainty over the interim government and the violence. In a valedictory speech to the nation over radio and TV, she attacked the Awami League and said the opposition party was responsible for the anarchy. The BNP and its Islamist allies, including the Jamaat-i-Islami, were elected to power in 2001 with an overwhelming two-thirds majority in the parliament. But Khaleda Zia’s coalition government was criticised at home and abroad for corruption and for the rise of Islamist militancy in the country. A wave of deadly bombing attacks that started in August 2005 was carried out by the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh group as part of a campaign to impose strict Islamic law. Its leaders were sentenced to death this year. As the coalition government’s mandate neared its end, 13 key BNP politicians resigned from the party protesting against corruption over the last five years. They formed a new political party — the Liberal Democratic Party — headed by a former president of the country, Prof. A.Q.M. Badruddoza Chowdhury, and a former minister Oli Ahmed. The rebels brought allegations of widespread corruption against a number of ministers, lawmakers and leaders including the outgoing prime minister’s eldest son Tarique Rahman. Oli Ahmed said he decided to leave the BNP to protest ‘unabated corruption’ and cronyism linked to Tarique. The Awami League has vowed to “paralyse” the country with protests until the government bows to its demand that someone it considers impartial heads the caretaker government. Meanwhile, the authorities have taken up stringent security measures in and around the capital city. More than 20,000 security personnel will guard the capital city to thwart plans declared by the Awami League to lay siege to it. Business leaders have been voicing worry at the political violence and the Awami League-led alliance’s programme of cutting the capital off from the rest of the country and also blocking the country’s main port of Chittagong.