In Bangladesh, Defiant Zia Vows to Prolong Blockade and Hartal

By BenarNews Bangladesh Correspondent
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BD-zia-620-March2015 Former prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia addresses reporters in Dhaka, March 13, 2015.

Emerging from a self-imposed silence of nearly two months, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairwoman Khaleda Zia on Friday vowed to continue current work stoppages and protests against the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina until they reached a ‘logical conclusion’.

Addressing a press conference in Dhaka for only the second time in 53 days, the opposition leader did not specify what she meant by ‘logical conclusion’.

She took no questions from reporters.

"The movement is neither against any person, nor is it against any party. It is an ideological movement,” the former prime minister said.

She urged her countrymen to bear the “temporary” pains of the ongoing blockade and hartal, which a BNP-led opposition alliance has enforced since Jan. 5.

It came about after the Hasina government barred Zia from leading a protest march on the one-year anniversary of a controversial election that brought Hasina to power for the third time.

The news conference created unusual interest among ordinary Bangladeshis, because Zia called it amid threats of her arrest made by Hasina two days ago.

On Feb. 24, a Dhaka court issued an arrest warrant against Zia after she failed to appear for hearings in two corruption cases.

“The government is constantly threatening me with arrests and hanging, but it will not work,” Zia said.

Legal experts say the Hasina government appears to be in a dilemma about arresting Zia, largely because it is unsure of the consequences.

“If she was an ordinary person, police would have arrested her immediately after the arrest warrant was issued. But not in her case,” said Barrister Rafiqul Haq, a leading lawyer.

More than 100 dead

Zia’s announcement about prolonging the movement dashed any hope for an early resolution to the crisis.

It has caused billions of dollars in economic losses, hampered education and claimed more than 100 lives, mostly ordinary people.

The only way to resolve the crisis, Zia said, was to hold an election under a neutral caretaker administration in which all parties would participate.

Offering suggestions about how a neutral administration would come into being, she said, “a so-called parliament is in session. It should nullify the 15th amendment.”

The 15th amendment to Bangladesh’s constitution abolished a system of holding elections under a political neutral caretaker administration.

As a result, the BNP and its allies refused to participate in the January 2014 election, held while Sheikh Hasina was the incumbent.

Zia also demanded the immediate release of all opposition activists and the withdrawal of cases against them, an end to “enforced disappearances, murders and extrajudicial killings,” proper investigations of such killings and punishment of perpetrators.

At the same time, Zia said, all types of bans on political activities must be lifted so that anyone could hold demonstrations, meetings or processions without any hindrance.

“The Awami League, particularly Sheikh Hasina, is responsible for the problem,” Zia said.

She said her party believed in peaceful ways to realize its demands.

Zia also alleged that recent violence and sabotage, especially fire bombings of public transport across Bangladesh, were the work of the rulingAwami League and designed to give the BNP and its allies a bad name.

She urged the media to do their job honestly and objectively and not submit to threats and intimidation.

Reacting to the speech, Mahbub Ul Alam Hanif, the ruling party’s joint secretary, dismissed Zia’s demands.

“In this country what is happening is not a political crisis. These are terrorism activities going on, there is no possibility to discuss and dialogue with anyone who is involved in the violence," he said, speaking from the offices of the Awami League.


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