Over 200 arrested during opposition-called general strike in Bangladesh

By Julhas Alam, AP
Sunday, June 27, 2010

Over 200 arrested in Bangladesh opposition strike

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Security forces arrested more than 200 activists Sunday, according to police and news reports, as Bangladesh’s main opposition party led a nationwide dawn-to-dusk general strike to protest alleged government misrule.

General strikes have been a common opposition tactic in Bangladesh, a fragile parliamentary democracy since nine years of military rule ended in 1990. But Sunday’s strike was the first in 3½ years, signaling that political bickering may return to the streets.

Several people were injured in clashes between opposition supporters and the ruling Awami League’s student wing near a university in Dhaka, private ATN Bangla television reported.

Footage from another private station, ETV, showed security officials kicking in the door of an opposition leader’s home. Once inside, they beat supporters gathered there; the leader himself had previously been detained.

The unrest comes as frustration has been growing in Bangladesh over frequent power cuts and deteriorating law and order, among other issues.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, called Sunday’s strike to protest alleged Awami League misrule. Zia — who has long been locked in a battle for power with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — accused the government of suppressing the opposition and failing to control commodity prices or improve law and order.

About 10,000 security forces were deployed in the capital and schools and businesses were closed, witnesses said. Only a few tricycle rickshaws plied the city’s usually clogged streets.

Authorities erected barbed-wire fences in parts of Dhaka, and police Commissioner A.K.M. Shahidul Haque said police would not allow any rallies to block major streets.

Walid Hossain, a Dhaka Metropolitan Police official, said at least 167 people were arrested in the capital. ATN Bangla said dozens were arrested in several other districts.

Those arrested included a former Cabinet minister and three senior aides of Zia, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

Khandaker Delwar Hossain, a senior leader of Zia’s party, announced nationwide demonstrations for Monday to protest the arrests and beatings of its activists.

Among the strike’s targets were recent deals with India made by Hasina’s administration, Zia said. The opposition maintains that those agreements — including use of Bangladesh ports by India and Bangladesh’s import of Indian power — are against national interests.

In Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second-largest city, the strike disrupted the transport of goods from the country’s main port, said Osman Gani Mansoor, a local journalist.

An interim government took power in early 2007 and imposed a state of emergency after weeks of violence between the political camps led by Zia and Hasina. It then arrested both leaders, but later released them ahead of elections that Hasina’s alliance won overwhelmingly.

Zia’s opposition coalition has since boycotted parliament, saying the ruling alliance has prevented it from bringing up the people’s problems.

Some citizens were critical of Sunday’s political strife.

“This is unexpected. We don’t want this conflict again,” Abdur Razzak, a retired banker, said in Dhaka’s Uttara residential district.

“It’s better if they discuss issues in parliament instead of clashing on the streets,” he said.

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