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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Bangladesh’s opposition vows more protests amid crackdown on dissent ahead of election
DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition party vowed on Thursday to continue protesting and demanding a free and fair vote under a caretaker government, following deadly clashes and a crackdown on opposition politicians ahead of elections in January.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party said more than 12,000 of its activists had been arrested since the Oct. 28 protest demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while at least a dozen others had been killed as protests turned violent. A police officer was among the dead and scores of others were injured.
The BNP, whose top leadership is either in prison or in exile, said free and fair elections were not possible under the current government.
“Our protest is to revive democracy and democratic legitimacy in Bangladesh and give people back their right to franchise and rebuild the collapsed democratic institutions like the judiciary and the police,” Nawshad Zamir, the BNP’s international affairs secretary, told Arab News.
“We need an election-time neutral government to ensure free and fair elections to return to people their right of suffrage … we (will) continue to protest until we achieve a free election to revive democracy and rebuild our institutions.”
In a new form of anti-government protests, the BNP has been enforcing periods of nationwide blockades, bringing intercity bus and lorry transport almost to a halt. The next action is set to take place on Sunday and Monday.
That follows opposition-led rallies held late last month that drew tens of thousands of people. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets when clashes erupted between protesters and authorities.
Rights group Amnesty International described the situation as an “intensified crackdown” that signaled “an attempt at a complete clampdown of dissent in Bangladesh” ahead of the election.
The country’s most popular newspaper Prothom Alo reported on Sunday that Bangladesh police had arrested nearly 8,000 opposition figures in a nationwide crackdown since late October, based on reports from its correspondents.
Biplab Barua, office secretary of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League Party and special assistant to the prime minister, disputed the reports of a crackdown against opposition politicians as the UN on Tuesday raised concerns “about the large number of people who’ve been arrested.”
“There is no incident of mass arrest. The number is not true. Ten thousand people were not arrested. The arrests are being conducted with specific incidents and charges in connection to those incidents,” Barua told Arab News.
“(The BNP is) creating anarchy and violence in the name of politics. They are committing crimes in the name of politics … If they believed in democracy, they would participate in the election. They want to grab power through anarchy and bypassing the constitution and election.”
Hasina, who is seeking her fourth straight five-year term in office, has repeatedly ruled out handing power to a caretaker government.
“Elections will happen like it happens in countries such as Canada and India … like it happened in 2018 in Bangladesh,” she told a press conference last week. “Routine government work will not stop.”
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