Bangladesh detains 7,000 opposition activists

Government says more than 7,000 activists arrested since protest began 15 days ago against arrest of opposition leader.

The crisis started when police confined Khaleda Zia to her office after she threatened to lead a mass rally [EPA]

More than 7,000 opposition activists have been arrested in Bangladesh since protests began nearly a fortnight ago, the government says.

The authorities said on Thursday that those detained are responsible for the violence and sabotage in the protests against the detention of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

The crisis started when police confined Zia to her office after she threatened to lead a mass rally against her political rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

This violence must stop, and people must feel safe

by Hassan Shahriar, Senior journalist

Activists firebombed buses, cars and lorries, killing 29 people since the opposition called a nationwide transport blockade to protest the detention of Zia.

“This violence must stop, and people must feel safe,” analyst and journalist Hassan Shahriar said.

“All parties should have to initiate a dialogue what they actually want and how.”

Zia’s supporters, who boycotted the last January’s parliamentary vote, demand that the government resign and hold new elections immediately.

Moreover, Zia wants Hasina to call for fresh polls after the controversial general election. However, Hasina stands still and says her government will remain in office until her term ends in 2019.

Hasina reiterated in a speech in Parliament on Tuesday that she will not step down. She asked security officials to take a tougher stand against the violence. A Cabinet member said the government is thinking about issuing “shoot-at-sight” orders against arsonists.

Zia, who denies her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies were responsible for the bomb attacks, has also demanded the release of opposition officials and leaders detained over the violence.

Hasina has accused Zia of trying to trigger “anarchy” and ordered the security agencies to hunt down the protesters behind the firebombings.

The United States, Britain and the European Union have expressed concern over the unrest.

The EU, the nation’s biggest export destination, has urged Hasina’s government and the opposition to hold talks to resolve the crisis.

Editor arrested

Along with the deadly attacks in the recent weeks, a court in Bangladesh issued an arrest warrant for the editor of the country’s top daily newspaper over a cartoon and article that was considered offensive to Muslims.

Matiur Rahman, who edits the Bengali daily Prothom Alo, was arrested on Wednesday and accused of hurting religious sentiment in a case filed last October.

Public prosecutor Alam Khan Kamal told AFP the judge had issued the arrest warrant after Rahman failed to appear in court on three consecutive occasions. He did not immediately answer calls for comment.

Source: News Agencies