December 5, 2023 8:05 PM

Policeman Killed, More Than 200 Injured in Violence as Tensions Escalate in Bangladesh Ahead of Elections

A Bangladeshi policeman was killed and more than 200 people, including security personnel, were injured on Saturday as violence erupted during rallies called by the ruling and opposition parties here, heightening tensions in the country ahead of the expected elections in January. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, organised a grand rally here demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to allow free and fair elections under a non-party interim government.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police Spokesman Faruk Hossain said BNP activists hacked to death a police constable while 41 other policemen were wounded in clashes across the capital. He added that 39 policemen were undergoing treatment at the Rajarbagh Central Police Hospital (CPH). Doctors declared him (policeman) dead as he was brought here, Bacchu Mian, Inspector at the police outpost at state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told reporters, as the ruling Awami League party and main opposition BNP called simultaneous rallies in nearby areas.

Paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) was also called out as the violence spread across downtown Dhaka, which saw protestors setting fire to ambulances and vehicles inside CPH, a police booth, and attack attempts being made at several government buildings. Kakrail and adjacent areas also saw major violence. Police responded with rubber bullets, tear gas canisters and sound grenades to break up the grand rally by the BNP.

BNP leaders and activists attacked the government installations and property. Legal actions will be taken, Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s detective branch chief Harunur Rashid told reporters. Prime Minister Hasina’s ruling Awami League party also staged a peace rally mobilising thousands of supporters at the South Gate of Baitul Mokarram Nation Mosque, when BNP activists rallied around the party’s Naya Paltan central office, both the spots being in downtown Dhaka.

Police in riot gear with water cannons created buffer zones at the Purana Paltan area to prevent clashes among rival activists, who were armed with bamboo sticks and stones. Doctors at Dhaka’s main state-run DMCH told reporters that so far, around 200 people have been brought to the facility, many of them with critical head injuries.

The violence, which broke out in the Kakrail area when BNP activists allegedly attacked a bus carrying members of the rival party, spread as soon as police fired tear gas at the opposition activists chanting anti-government slogans. The BNP has called a nationwide general strike on Sunday to protest against police action to foil a peaceful mass gathering.

In response, Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport Minister Obaidul Quader asked the ruling party workers to stage peace rallies countrywide. Prime Minister Hasina, meanwhile, criticised the opposition for attempting to derail her government’s development agenda.

Your intimidation does not frighten Awami League, she told a public rally in the southeastern port city of Chattogram after inaugurating the country’s first underwater tunnel in the Karnaphuli River. Saturday’s violence came amid heightened tensions over the scheduled early January 2024 general elections in Bangladesh, where Hasina, daughter of the country’s founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has been in power for 15 years.

According to the BNP, no polls under the ruling Awami League could be credible and fair. However, the ruling party, which hopes to return to power for a fourth consecutive term, has rejected the demand, saying that the election would be held under the supervision of Hasina’s government as specified in the Constitution. The opposition party has been mounting protests to press their demands for months though their ailing leader, Khaleda Zia, a two-time premier, is under house arrest after a conviction on corruption charges.

The BNP says it is attempting a final push to remove Hasina as the election commission prepares to announce the country’s 12th national election. On Thursday, Bangladesh’s independent Election Commission said it was yet to see a favourable environment for the scheduled early January 2024 polls.

”We want to organise the election. As the organiser, we would like to say the favourable environment we were expecting has not been achieved yet, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Habibul Awal told journalists. The election commission chief, however, said his office was preparing to hold the election as scheduled. Asked what measures the commission would take if the entire national election process was flawed, Awal said, In such a scenario, I would have no choice but to suspend the election process across the entire country.” The BNP is demanding the restoration of the election-time non-party caretaker government system, under which four elections from 1991 to 2008 were held.

The December 2008 elections installed Hasina’s Awami League, while the subsequent 2014 and 2008 polls were held under the incumbent government, which scrapped the constitutional provision after assuming office in January 2009. Major Western nations, including the US, are calling for the Bangladesh polls to be fair, credible and inclusive for the sake of democracy.

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)

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