Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET on 2018-11-14
Dozens of people were injured Wednesday in violence between police and supporters of Bangladesh’s main opposition party as candidates arrived at its Dhaka headquarters to collect nomination papers for the Dec. 30 general election, officials and witnesses said.
At least 43 people – including 20 Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists and 23 police personnel – sustained injuries as BNP supporters clashed with police, according to officials and reporters on site. The violence started around 12:45 p.m. (local time), when a bang that sounded like an explosion was heard as a senior party member and his entourage approached the office, they said.
The street clashes lasted till mid-afternoon, with both BNP representatives and officials from the Awami League-led government accusing the other side of instigating the violence as a political ploy ahead of next month’s elections.
Police were seen firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the large crowd of BNP supporters, some of whom reacted violently following the loud noise.
BNP activists were seen wielding brickbats and throwing pieces of bricks at officers, while also vandalizing and torching nearby vehicles, including two police cars.
BNP officials and activists accused the police of firing on party members unprovoked when Mirza Abbas, a former mayor of Dhaka who sits on the party’s standing committee, and his sizeable entourage arrived to collect his nomination form for the polls.
“The police shot at our brothers without any provocation. They beat and used teargas against them,” Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, the BNP’s senior joint secretary general, told reporters. The party later issued a press release, saying that more than 50 of its members were injured in the violence. The claim could not be immediately verified with police.
At least 23 policemen were injured when BNP activists hurled brick chips at them, Shiblee Noman, an additional deputy commissioner for Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told journalists. The officers were being treated at a police hospital, he said.
“BNP activists attacked the cops without any provocation just to create an issue ahead of the election,” Monirul Islam, another senior police official, told reporters.
According to another policeman, BNP activists who gathered in large numbers were impeding car traffic by blocking the road near the party’s main office
“We requested them time and again to remain disciplined and allow the traffic [to move]. But they became rather furious and attacked police,” Mahmud Hasan, the officer-in-charge of the Paltan Police Station, told BenarNews.
“We were on duty to clear the traffic, but they attacked us without any reason,” he added.
Police officials said they did not know what caused the bang that precipitated the violence, but they were investigating it and had detained 45 people after Wednesday’s street clash.
Officials from the Awami League and BNP were swift in trading post-clash accusations.
“The incident of the attack on police and burning of police vans is a planned one. BNP leaders and activists attacked police vans to foil the election,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told journalists at his office in Dhaka.
Rizvi, the senior official of the BNP shot back by accusing the security services of attacking the party’s officials and supporters to keep BNP from contesting the upcoming polls.
“The government has become insane seeing the flow of people towards our office. They are trying to subdue the people by attacking them,” Nipun Roy Chowdhury, who sits on the BNP executive committee, told BenarNews. He was referring to large numbers of candidates and their supporters who have been converging on the party’s Dhaka headquarters since Monday to collect nomination papers.
Bitter and violent politics
Wednesday’s incident occurred after the campaigning season for the country’s 11th general election kicked off last week, when Bangladesh’s Election Commission first announced the date for the national polls.
A few days later, the commission postponed them by seven days till Dec. 30, after the BNP and other members of a newly formed opposition coalition complained that they needed more time to organize their campaigns.
At the weekend, the BNP and other allies in the National Unity Front coalition announced that they planned to contest the national polls in an effort to prevent Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina from clinching a third consecutive term as prime minister. Hasina’s arch foe, BNP chief Khaleda Zia, 73, is serving time in prison after she was twice convicted this year on corruption-related charges.
The violence outside the BNP’s office took place on the third day after the party began selling and distributing nomination papers to parliamentary hopefuls.
The BNP is trying to field 300 candidates for 300 parliamentary seats, according to party officials.
Violence has marred Bangladeshi during and after previous elections.
The December vote will mark the first time in a decade that BNP and partner parties will contest the election. They boycotted the last election, held in January 2014, after Awami refused to allow a neutral caretaker government to run the country during the electoral season after the ruling party had amended a clause in the constitution that stipulated this.
Deadly violence broke out during a BNP boycott of the last general election and during a BNP-led strike that lasted months following the one-year anniversary of the 2014 polls.