Bangladesh has ended its confinement of opposition leader Khaleda Zia after a surge in political violence left 27 people dead, but her party vowed to continue a nationwide transport blockade.
Zia had been barred from leaving her office for the last 16 days to prevent her from leading protests aimed at toppling her arch-rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Police stationed outside Zia’s office in Dhaka’s upmarket Gulshan district stood down on Monday, while two police vans and a water cannon parked outside were removed.
“We’ve withdrawn the additional security from her office after midnight,” local police chief Rafiqul Islam told AFP news agency, adding that the former two-time prime minister was now free to leave.
Blockade and demands
The blockade has seen opposition activists firebomb buses, cars and lorries across the country, while police have retaliated by firing bullets and tear gas.
“The BNP-led 20-party opposition alliance’s transport blockade will continue until the government agrees to our demand,” party spokesman Sayrul Kabir Khan said.
Transport operators estimate they are losing $26m a day, while millions of dollars worth of crops have rotted in the fields.
A total of 238 vehicles have been torched since January 4 and another 307 damaged, according to Bengali daily Prothom Alo.
Zia wants Hasina to call fresh polls after last year’s controversial general election, which was boycotted by opposition parties on the grounds it would be rigged and was marred by deadly violence.
The boycott meant most members of the 300-seat parliament were returned unopposed, handing Hasina another five years in power.
Zia has also demanded the release of opposition officials and leaders detained in a crackdown against the latest violence. The BNP says at least 2,000 of its activists have been arrested.
As part of the crackdown, authorities have blocked smartphone messaging services Viber and Tango to prevent protesters from coordinating attacks.