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Bangladesh could be set for prolonged unrest

Violence has erupted after the execution of an opposition figure and analysts worry January's vote could be impacted.

Last updated: 14 Dec 2013 14:23
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Dhaka, Bangladesh - Violence continues in Bangladesh following the execution of a prominent opposition figure, and local business owners and residents are worried the turmoil could spin out of control.

Friday was one of the worst days for local merchants in years, said Mohammad Mozammel, an owner of a store that sells essential products at Azampur Railway Super Market.

"We had the lowest number of customers as people did not want to come out of their houses after political violence erupted across the country, following Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah's execution last night," he said.

"Policemen armed with shotguns and other weapons rushed into our markets [on Friday night]. They asked us to close our shops while they prepared to clash with the miscreants in the nearby market."

Shobuj, a salesman of another store, said: "We have been facing losses ever since October 25 when the opposition began calling blockades and strikes during the weekdays. But the crisis is the worst now."

Similar angst is being felt by other Bangladeshis as well, as the violence that has erupted since Thursday night has already claimed at least 11 lives and led to hundreds of injuries. More than 150 vehicles were vandalised and torched across the country, according to local media.

While law enforcement officials have been on "high alert", security analysts fear that the violence may intensify, especially prior to national parliamentary elections set for January 5. The 18-party opposition, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has already boycotted the elections as their demands were not met.

There is a fear that the election may become one-sided if a viable solution to the present political impasse is not decided upon soon.

Historical problems

Abdul Quader Mollah was found guilty on February 5, this year, for killing a student, a family of 11 members and for collaborating with Pakistani forces to kill 369 others in 1971 during Bangladesh's war of independence.

Over the past four decades, Bangladeshi authorities have maintained that during the nine-month long bloody war, the Pakistani army and their local collaborators killed at least three million people and raped more than 200,000 women in then-East Pakistan (now-Bangladesh).

Jamaat-e-Islami, Mollah’s political party, was against the formation of Bangladesh at the time.

We are gradually moving towards a situation where there may soon be selective killings as can be heard of in Israel and Afghanistan.

M Shahiduzzaman, security analyst 

Although Mollah was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, the Supreme Court in Bangladesh changed that to a death sentence in September.

After his review appeal was ruled out on Thursday by an Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Quader Mollah was hanged at the Dhaka Central Jail on Thursday. The media was not informed of the execution. His body was later buried at his village home in Faridpur.

A few minutes after the execution was reported by the local media, reports of clashes between Jamaat supporters and police poured in from across the country.

A Jamaat leader in Laxmipur and three Shibir activists were killed during clashes between police and opposition activists on Saturday, local media reported.

An activist of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat, died during a clash with police in Comilla while a ruling party leader was killed allegedly by Jamaat activists in Satkhira.

A number of train stations were attacked on the same night. Opposition activists hurled a petrol bomb at the Joydebpur railway junction on Friday morning.

A Juba League activist, the youth wing of the ruling party, was killed in Satkhira while a rickshaw puller was killed during a clash between police and Jamaat activists in Noakhali district on Friday. In Pirojpur, a BNP activist was shot dead by the police while a Jamaat activist was run over by a truck when he tried to set the vehicle on fire in Jessore, reported bdnews24.com.

Two more were reported dead in Noakhali and Khulna on Friday evening. A Jamaat leader in Laxmipur and three more during opposition and police clashes in Noakhali in clashes that continued through Saturday.

'Is this a curse?'

In Dhaka, the capital, violence began Friday afternoon in Fakirerpul, Rampura, Arambagh, Motijheel and Paltan areas. Photographer Abdullah Apu was in the Arambagh area when a procession was brought out allegedly by Jamaat activists. "A group of journalists were following the procession. When it came near the AGB Colony, they exploded homemade bombs. Within a few minutes, the activists dispersed and set fire to at least 15 vehicles," he said.

Police said they opened fire to control the violence. Shanto Islam, 10, was shot by a stray bullet. Shanto has been unconscious ever since he was rushed to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The boy was on his way to his aunt's for lunch from his father's street-side tea stall in Arambagh.

Sobhan Mia, Shanto's father, was worried. "This is a curse for our family," he said. "We can hardly support ourselves with our daily income. How can we bear the cost of his treatment now?" he asked.

A senior official of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police told Al Jazeera that security forces have been on "high alert" ever since Tuesday when the execution was originally scheduled. "We were prepared for such violence as the execution was imminent. There has been less number of violence in Dhaka today than what we were dreading," he said.

"Police are responsible for safeguarding the lives and interests of the common people. That is exactly what they will do during these times," Inspector General of Police Hasan Mahmud Khandaker told Al Jazeera.

Analysts are dreading that the worst is yet to come.

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International's Bangladesh researcher said in a statement after the execution, "The country is on a razor’s edge at the moment with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests. Mollah’s execution could trigger more violence, with the Hindu community bearing the brunt."

Terming the ongoing surge in violence as "insurgency", M Shahiduzzaman, a security analyst and a professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka, feared: "This can intensify to high-level attacks" that will "increase ahead of elections" scheduled for January 5.

"We are gradually moving towards a situation where there may soon be selective killings as can be heard of in Israel and Afghanistan."

Political wrangling

When asked why most violent incidents are occurring outside Dhaka, Shahiduzzaman explained, "Dhaka has more law enforcement than other parts of the country, where BNP has a huge support."

Abdul Quader Molla, 64, the fourth-highest ranked leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party was executed on Thursday [AFP]

He felt that if the opposition does not take part in the election, the outcomes of a one-sided election,may be grave for the country's stability.

The 18-party alliance has boycotted the upcoming elections, as their demand for a neutral caretaker government during polls, and without present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina leading it, did not materialise.

Meanwhile, top leaders of BNP and AL met for the third time on Friday evening Dhaka to discuss solutions out of the present political impasse.

"We have discussed a number of proposals," said AL General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam. We will inform our respective chairpersons about the proposals and decide on a formula soon during further discussion sessions, he hoped.

On Friday, Bangladesh's Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed said, "It is going to be difficult to postpone the election schedule, but there is always a chance." He hoped that a proper solution will soon be reached for the sake of stability in the country.

Ever since October 25, when the 18-party opposition began their protests through nationwide strikes and blockades, more than 100 people have died across the country till December 11. Protests are expected to continue in the coming days. 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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