DHAKA, March 11 (Xinhua) — Bangladesh’s tense political standoff over a non-party caretaker government system culminated with anti-government protesters striving to stage a mass rally in capital Dhaka on Monday.
Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on Jan. 9 initiated the “Dhaka Cholo” (Let’s March to Dhaka) rally which is said to be the biggest public event in the South Asian country’s recent history.
In a statement on Friday, Khaleda cautioned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh Awami League (AL) government that it would have to face dire consequences if the grand rally is obstructed.
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia has said her party will observe the rally peacefully, but her arch rival Hasina, also the ruling AL party president, on Saturday expressed her worries over the risk of anarchy that might be created due to the rally in the capital city.
BNP said the march towards Dhaka is aimed at pressing the government to restore the constitutional provision for the non- party caretaker government system to oversee the next general elections slated for early 2014.
Bangladesh Parliament on June 30 last year passed the 15th Constitution Amendment Bill, bringing a series of changes, including repeal of the provision for holding national elections under the non-party caretaker government which means that Hasina’s incumbent AL-led government will stay in power during the next parliamentary elections. BNP and its allies, including key Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, called on a series of strikes to protest against the annulment of the caretaker government system.
Although BNP said the March 12 event is only to demand restoration of the caretaker government system but Hasina’s government described the event as a trick adopted by the opposition to foil the trial of war criminals.
After returning to power in January 2009, Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, established a court called “The International Crimes Tribunal” in March 2010, almost 40 years after the 1971 fight for independence from Pakistan.
But it has been plagued by criticism for targeting her political opponents from BNP and Jamaat, which (Jamaat) allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani forces in 1971 to prevent an independent Bangladesh.
To drum up public support for the government’s bid to castigate those committed crimes against humanity during the country’s war of independence in 1971, Bangladesh’s ruling alliance is set to form a human chain in capital Dhaka on Sunday evening and stage a rally on March 14.
BNP leaders said the party, founded by late President Ziaur Rahman, also wants crimes against humanity punished. But they said there should be no farce in the name of trial.
Mahbubur Rahman, BNP’s standing committee member, refuted the government’s allegation and said “Our program to demand restoration of the caretaker government system will remain peace, we believe in democratic movements.”
Talking to Xinhua, the lieutenant general urged the government to refrain from all repressive steps and allow the party leaders, workers and supporters from all over the country to exercise their democratic rights. “About 5,000 party leaders and activists across the country have so far been arrested,” he added.
Despite efforts by the government to dampen the spirit of opposition activists, Rahman said about 1 million people are expected to join the program on March 12. He also maintained that the gathering supporters would reach 2-3 million if the government doesn’t obstruct people from joining the rally.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP’s acting secretary general, alleged that police have been deployed in district and sub- district towns to prevent people from joining the opposition rally in the capital.
He said restriction has also been imposed on the movement of inter-district buses, issuance of train tickets and room bookings in residential hotels in the capital as well as plying of motor launches, steamers and speed boats to Dhaka so that BNP supporters cannot travel to the capital.
The road and river communications between Dhaka and other parts of the country reportedly has been disrupted severely since Sunday morning as the buses were kept off roads and launches were barred from anchoring at the terminal ahead of the rally in Dhaka, leading English newspaper the Daily Star reported Sunday.
Bangladeshi Home Minister Shahara Khatun said law enforcement agencies had been put on alert in Dhaka and other parts of the country to prevent possible anarchy before the grand rally.