Hartal today

7 vehicles torched; Muhith for legal measures to stop hartal

A van set afire by unidentified youths in front of Institute of Engineers, Bangladesh yesterday on the eve of the opposition's dawn-to-dusk hartal protesting the latest fuel price hike. Miscreants also torched a bus at Azimpur in the capital in the afternoon. Photo: Banglar ChokhStaff Correspondent

At least seven vehicles were set on fire in the capital yesterday, as the BNP-led opposition geared up for a countrywide dawn-to-dusk hartal today to protest the fuel price hike.

The vehicles were set ablaze at Ramna, Azimpur, Gulshan, Mirpur, Tejgaon, Dhanmondi, and Old Dhaka.

Police suspect pro-hartal activists might have torched the vehicles to create panic among the city dwellers.

Also yesterday, at least 10 cocktails were exploded on the Dhaka University campus, and in Farmgate and Sabujbagh areas.

On the DU campus, Bangladesh Chhatra League cadres assaulted four photojournalists when the lens men were going past Salimullah Muslim Hall shortly after the blasts around 5:30pm.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister AMA Muhith yesterday said hartal-like activities should be stopped by legal measures.

Once hartal was a tool for protest, but now it has become a means to unleash violence, he observed, adding that no one has the right to disrupt public safety.

The minister was talking to reporters after attending a gathering of village police in Sylhet.

The BNP-led 18-party alliance announced the hartal on Friday, the day the latest fuel price hike took effect.

The hike has also triggered protests from left-leaning political parties and transport owners.

Bam Morcha, a combine of left parties, has threatened to call a hartal if the government does not withdraw the fuel price hike by January 8 and continues to increase power prices.

It made the announcement at an emergency meeting at the office of Gonosanghati Andolon in the capital, according to a press release.

Police and the Rapid Action Battalion have beefed up security to keep the situation under control.

Some 10,000 additional forces would remain deployed in the Dhaka Metropolitan area, said Rab officials and police.

Moreover, 10 mobile courts would remain vigilant across the capital to take immediate legal actions against anybody violating the laws, said Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner of the media and community centre of Dhaka Metropolitan Police(DMP).

Of the fire incidents, a pick-up van of Globe Pharmaceuticals was set ablaze around 3:00pm in front of the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh.

“When we parked our pick-up van for repair, some unknown youths came with kerosene and petrol and set it on fire,” said the driver, Shahidul Islam.

Two units of firefighters rushed to the spot and put out the fire, said officials of Fire Service and Civil Defence.

Shah Alam, officer-in-charge of Ramna Police Station, said pro-hartal activists might have torched the vehicle. No one could be arrested as the arsonists fled soon afterwards.

Around 4:30pm, a bus that plies between Azimpur and Gazipur was set on fire in front of Azimpur Girls School.

On information, two units of firefighters rushed to the spot and doused the flame.

“The bus was set afire when it was being repaired by its employees,” said Lalbagh OC Mohammad Azizuzzaman.

Vehicles were torched also at Gulshan, Mirpur Ansar Camp, Tejgaon Saatrasta intersection, in front of Teachers Training College at Dhanmondi and in front of Bahadur Shah Park near Jagannath University.

Besides, youths on a motorbike reportedly hurled several cocktails on the DU campus, police said.

One of the cocktails went off in front of the vice-chancellor's residence and the others at Palashi and near TSC.

As cocktails went off near Palashi intersection, a group of BCL men came out on the road in front of Salimullah hall. They waylaid photojournalists Hassan Raja of Prothom Alo, Andrew Biraj of Reuters, Sony Ramani of New Age and Harun-or-Rashid of Banglanews24.com as the four were rushing to Azimpur where a bus had just been torched.

The BCL cadres body-searched the journalists and assaulted them, blaming them for the explosions.

Later, police picked up Andrew and Harun, and took them to Shahbagh Police Station, instead of taking any measures against the attackers.

Syed Nurul Islam, deputy commissioner of DMP Ramna Division, said the BCL men handed over the two to police on suspicion that they were involved in the blasts.

Protesting the detention and assault, a large number of journalists demonstrated on the premises of the police station for over an hour.

They left the place after police freed the journalists, and BCL top brass pledged disciplinary actions against those responsible for the incident.

Meanwhile, two BNP activists were wounded in an explosion allegedly while making bombs at a house in the capital's Sabujbagh area yesterday.

Police seized over 1 kg gunpowder and other bomb-making materials from the house, owned by Abdul Khaleque, a local BNP leader. They also arrested the injured — Mohammad Russell and Arafat Hossain — and the house owner.

The injured were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said Nurul Alam, sub-inspector of Sabujbagh Police Station.

Informed of the blast, police came to the scene around 6:00pm and made the arrests and the seizure, the SI said, adding that four to five others fled soon after the explosion.

The opposition activists had been making bombs on the rooftop of Khaleque's building at Baghpara in Rajarbagh, said Babul Miah, officer-in-charge of the station.

Source: The Daily Star