Mon, Dec 30, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Opposition rally sparks chaos in Dhaka

DEADLY RIVALRY:Polls set for next week reignited fighting between protesters and police that has raged for weeks in Bangladesh’s most politically violent year since 1971

AFP, DHAKA

Bangladeshi police prevented the country’s opposition leader from leaving her house yesterday to lead a banned mass march aimed at thwarting next month’s general election, one of her aides said.

Scores of police stopped Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia’s car as it tried to drive from her house to the march in the capital, Dhaka, where hundreds of her supporters are clashing with security forces, aide Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said.

Zia, a two-time prime minister and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s archrival, had urged supporters to defy the ban on yesterday’s “March for Democracy.”

“Khaleda Zia boarded her car and tried to leave her house to lead the march, but police barred her car from leaving,” said Chowdhury, who is also a BND vice president.

Zia was seen arguing with police at her front gate, which rows of policemen were barricading, Channel 24 television footage showed.

BND supporters say authorities have kept Zia under de facto house arrest since Wednesday. Five sand-laden trucks have been parked outside Zia’s residence, apparently to prevent her leaving.

Hasina has refused to step down and with the ruling Awami League Party certain of victory, the elections are seen as likely to widen the political divide.

Police fired water cannon and shotguns at protesters in Dhaka yesterday, killing one person.

Hundreds of demonstrators, some throwing home-made bombs, battled police as they tried to gather at the opposition’s headquarters and other places throughout the capital.

About 11,000 police and elite Rapid Action Battalion officers were patroling the city to try to halt the march, Dhaka Police spokesman Masudur Rahman said.

Police have detained more than 1,000 opposition supporters as a “preventive measure,” while authorities have suspended Dhaka-bound bus, ferry and train services, virtually cutting the city off from the rest of the country.

“We’ve not approved the BNP protests. So anyone trying to gather outside the BNP office will face arrest,” he said.

Running battles erupted between police and protesters near BNP headquarters, footage on TV showed. Awami League activists armed with sticks and rocks also clashed with protesters outside the press club.

Dhaka has called the march undemocratic, with Bangladeshi Deputy Minister of Law Quamrul Islam urging Awami League supporters to resist the protests “with sticks.”

Police and other security forces conducted nationwide raids, searching trains and buses to arrest opposition supporters before the march. They have also set up checkpoints at entry points to Dhaka.

Police fired water cannons at protesters outside the national press club, a foreign reporter said.

In the Rampura neighborhood, more than 200 demonstrators threw small bombs at police, who responded with shotgun blasts during clashes there that left one person dead, a senior officer said.

One protester who was bleeding was taken to a hospital, where he then died, the officer said.

The BNP and its allies have staged weeks of deadly protests, strikes and transport blockades to try to force Hasina to resign. The opposition says the election scheduled for next Sunday must be held under a neutral caretaker government — as in the past —to prevent ballot-rigging.

The credibility of the polls has been undermined by the refusal of foreign countries and organizations to send observers.

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