Police in Bangladesh have been clashing with supporters of the opposition, firing tear gas and rubber bullets as supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) blocked major roads in the capital Dhaka to demand Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s resignation.
According to the BNP, dozens of its supporters were injured and more than 120 members arrested.
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As the economic crisis in the country worsens amid rising inflation and a cost of living crisis, the BNP has held huge protest rallies in recent months with tens of thousands of party supporters taking to the streets.
The current turmoil is one of the most serious political crises Hasina and her Awami League party have faced in recent years.
Here is what you need to know:
Why is the opposition demonstrating?
The BNP wants Prime Minister Hasina to step down and for the next election, due in January 2024, to be held under a neutral caretaker government.
During a rally on Friday, BNP Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said there was no scope of “having any fair election under this government”.
“Every important institution of the country has been destroyed and people’s rights have been taken away. Price hikes of every essential have made people’s lives miserable,” Alamgir told supporters.
The BNP, whose leader and former Prime Minister Khalida Zia is effectively under house arrest on corruption charges, has previously accused Hasina of vote rigging in 2014 and 2018. The Awami League has repeatedly rejected the allegations.
Hasina, who has maintained strict control since coming to power in 2009, has been accused of authoritarianism and human rights abuses, as well as suppressing free speech and suppressing dissent.
Her security forces are accused of detaining tens of thousands of opposition activists, killing hundreds in extrajudicial encounters and disappearing hundreds of leaders and supporters.
The elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) security force and seven of its senior officers were sanctioned by Washington in 2021 in response to those alleged rights abuses.
What is the government’s position?
So far, the government has rejected the demands of the opposition, saying that putting in a caretaker government was unconstitutional.
In 2011, the South Asian nation’s Supreme Court struck down the 15-year-old constitutional provision that allowed an incumbent government to transfer power to an unelected non-partisan caretaker administration to oversee a new parliamentary election.
Has the international community reacted?
Earlier this month, the regional campaigner for South Asia at Amnesty International said escalating tensions in Bangladesh were “alarming”.
“People should be free to protest and dissent. By muffling their voices, the government is signaling that having different political views is not tolerated within the country,” Yasasmin Kaviratne said, calling on police to “exercise restraint”.
The United States has called on the Bangladeshi government to hold free and participatory elections as the last two national elections were allegedly marred by vote rigging allegations.
Earlier this week, 14 US congresspeople wrote to the US ambassador to the UN to hold a fair election in Bangladesh under the mediation of the UN and neutral parties.
The Bangladeshi government has accused the US and its Western allies of intervening in the country’s internal affairs.