Opponents of the Bangladesh government have announced further protests and transport shutdowns for Thursday after a senior adviser to opposition leader Khaleda Zia was shot four times after leaving her office, in the latest round of political violence afflicting the south Asian country.
Reaz Rahman was injured and his car set alight in an attack by six men in central Dhaka on Tuesday night, metres away from police who have kept Ms Zia blockaded in her Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) office for 11 days, the BNP said. The attackers escaped.
Opponents say the attack on Mr Rahman, aged 74, was a further attempt by the Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to intimidate Ms Zia and her party.
At least 10 people have been killed in the past two weeks and several opposition leaders have been detained. Four people were burnt to death in a firebombing attack on a bus in Rangpur, northern Bangladesh, on Wednesday and police said they had arrested eight opposition militants.
In a statement, Ms Zia blamed the government for the attack, calling it “an act of cowardice and terror”. She said: “The ruling party will have to shoulder the full responsibility for the evil attempt to create anarchy in the country by resorting to terrorism, killings, secret attacks and enforced disappearances.”
Ms Zia’s BNP boycotted the general election a year ago after complaining of harassment and the conduct of the polls. That allowed Sheikh Hasina to return to power, albeit with only a low turnout of voters, but paved the way for this month’s demonstrations and protests on the election’s first anniversary.
Many of Bangladesh’s 150m inhabitants, including the owners of businesses in the country’s growing garment sector, are weary of the bitter rivalry between the two women that has plagued politics for years.
While Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League has become increasingly authoritarian — Ms Zia accuses her of launching a one-party state — the BNP and its Jamaat-e-Islami allies repeatedly resort to violent protests and transport shutdowns in pursuit of their demands.
Omar Chowdhury, managing director of Syntax Knitwear, said on Wednesday that the protests were “definitely hampering exports and imports” along the crucial road between Dhaka and the port of Chittagong.
“The government is giving a lot of security on the route, but how long that’s sustainable I don’t know,” he said.
Toby Cadman, an international human rights lawyer who advises the opposition in Bangladesh, said: “I think what we’re seeing is a deterioration in stability in Bangladesh and the Awami League trying to consolidate their power still further . . . The BNP is pushing for fresh, inclusive elections.”
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have called for investigations into recent killings, the release of detainees and an end to a crackdown on the media.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, citing government threats to deal with the opposition the way Maoists rebels were crushed in the 1970s, said the country appeared to be “heading toward a bloodbath” unless international and local stakeholders could break the cycle of political violence and censorship.
Source: Financial Times