Opposition arrests spark Bangladesh clashes

General strike under way in response to charges of arson charges against senior opposition leaders.

Opposition secretary-general for the Ban
Fakhrul Alamgir, centre, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party official, denies he was behind April's arson attacks [AFP]

A general strike is under way in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, after 33 senior opposition leaders were charged with involvement in an arson attack during an anti-government strike last month.

The main opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) called for Thursday’s strike, which they said would take place across the nation, in response to the ruling.

The BNP said the court decision was “politically motivated” aimed at crushing “legitimate protests” over the disappearance of a  BNP leader.

“It’s totally unbelievable and a fabricated case,” said BNP spokesman Nazrul Islam Khan, “We are awestruck at the court’s decision not to grant bail to our top leaders.”

Khan added that the charges against the men were bailable offences.

Following the arrests on Wednesday, there were angry scenes outside the court in Dhaka.

Police baton-charged angry demonstrators and a number of vehicles were attacked and set alight in the capital and several other towns, news reports said.

ATN Bangla television station said several opposition supporters were arrested.

Other stations said at least two vehicles were burned in separate incidents in Dhaka immediately after the ruling.

Opposition activists also smashed vehicles in protests in several other towns, news reports said.

Those arrested include Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir, the acting secretary of the BNP led by Khaleda Zia, and former Dhaka mayor Sadeq Hossain.

Secretary missing

The BNP heads the 18-party opposition alliance that has called a series of general strikes to protest alleged government involvement in a politician’s disappearance.

Jebel Rahman Ghaani, chairman of the opposition Bangladesh National Awami Party, told Al Jazeera “the government has been quite incompetent in the handling of most national issues,” particularly, the disappearance of an official in the BNP.

The opposition also set a June 10 ultimatum for the government to restore a caretaker government system to oversee the next national elections, due in 2014.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina scrapped the 15 year-old system last year in what the opposition says was part of a plan to rig the elections.

The opposition has said it will boycott the elections if the system is not restored.

Political tensions have sharply escalated since Elias Ali, an organising secretary in Zia’s party, went missing along with his driver on April 17 from a street in Dhaka.

Police found his car abandoned in Dhaka and his driver is also missing.

The opposition says the government and its security agencies are behind his disappearance. Authorities deny the allegation.

As a result of Wednesday’s ruling, the 33 defendants will remain in jail until further legal proceedings.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies