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One dead, 300 injured in Bangladesh violence

Opposition party chief threatens 60-hour nationwide strike, if talks are not initiated

Gulf News

Dhaka: Bangladesh main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia on Friday issued a two-day deadline asking her archrival Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina to initiate talks to accept her demands for an amended electoral system as violence across the country killed one and injured 300.

The announcement came as paramilitary troops patrol streets in the capital as the ruling Awami League and the main opposition party along with their allies demonstrated their strength over a disputed election system. The violence that ensued the rallies has seen at least one dead and injured some 300 people, amid mounting tensions.

“We give you (the government) two days time . . . unless you take steps for dialogue within the period, a 60 hour hartal (strike) will be observed across the country from October 27,” Zia told a massive party rally at the city’s Suhrawardy Udyan amid heightened political tensions.

BNP’s crucial ally fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Isami activists also joined the rally in huge number defying drizzles while Zia said the government would turn “illegal” from the date as the countdown for the elections, due ahead of January 25 began.

“But if the government comes up with positive proposals for a dialogue, we will continue the negotiations but also continue the movement on the streets ...both movement and negotiations can continue simultaneously,” Zia said.

In an instant response to the opposition stance, Awami League spokesman Mohammad Nasim sharply criticised Zia for “opting for confrontation” and asked her to withdraw the strike call but said the premier would call her any time.

“Shaikh Hasina will call you (Zia) any time to invite you for talks (as she said earlier),” he said after the ruling party staged a counter rally in front of the Awami League central office at Bangabandhu Avenue but did not point out exactly when the two archrivals could talks over phone.

But Nasim questioned how Zia could declare the government illegal from October 27 or October 25 as she claimed earlier, saying according to the constitution and peoples mandate the tenure of the ruling Awami League in office would expire on January 25, 2014.

Most residents in Dhaka preferred to stay indoors deserting the streets in Dhaka as the two archrivals prepared to demonstrate strengths rallying hundreds of their activists at two different corners in the capital as authorities eased a ban on street protests slapped earlier to avert a possible political violence.

Authorities last night relaxed a ban allowing BNP to stage a planned rally in the capital as they vowed to stage the meeting defying a previous ban intensifying fears of a violent face off with Awami League activists.

The Awami League also staged a counter rally simultaneously in an apparent attempt of counter show down at Bangabandhu Avenue area.

Violence outside Dhaka

The death of an opposition activist was reported from southeastern Cox’s Bazar as protesters clashed with BGB troops while the TV channels said violence also erupted at different parts of the country including southwestern Patuakhali leaving an estimated 300 people injured.

Police and elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) earlier said they mobilised extra strength in strategic locations outside Dhaka as BNP and its ally Jamaat reportedly planned to put in their efforts to cut Dhaka’s communication line with rest of the country.

Officials said the BGB troops were called out in aide of police and RAB in Dhaka, southeastern port city of Chittagong and several other cities amid the face off visibly exposing the country to an uncertain political course.

Zia yesterday claimed the Awami League-led government of Hasina turned “illegal” from Friday but during the rally she revised the date to be October 27 in line with the constitutional 90-day countdown for the polls while her party spearheads a campaign for installing a non-party caretaker government.

The opposition leader on Monday floated a visibly complicated counter proposal on formation of a polls time non-party caretaker government rejecting Hasina’s last week’s proposal for all-party government for election oversight within the constitutional framework.

The opposition leader suggested that both the parties would each chose five people to constitute the proposed interim government from among the 20 former advisers of the past two non-party caretaker governments which oversaw the 1996 and 2001 general elections installing respectively the Awami League and BNP to power.

The premier’s proposal did not mention who would head the poll time interim government though the government leaders said she was supposed to continue as the prime minister while Zia said a person who would be “most acceptable” to both the two sides would head the election time government instead of the incumbent premier.

“Accept it . . . It will require a simple amendment to the constitution,” she told the Friday’s rally.

But the party apparently later shifted from the proposal on Wednesday when the BNP lawmakers during their brief presence in parliament hinted that their main concern was who would head the poll time government.

“If the two parties could reach a consensus on the matter, the other matters could be easily solved,” senior BNP lawmaker MK Anwar told the house.

The government is yet to formally respond to the opposition proposal but the premier yesterday called Zia’s proposition “impractical” while holding a meeting with allies in her government of Grand Alliance two days ago.

But the communications between the two parties apparently could help little to ease growing anxieties prompting foreign development partners appearance in the political scene with appeals for continued democratic process through constructive dialogues between the major parties.