Protests mar Bangladesh PM Hasina’s Washington visit

Ashif Entaz Rabi
Protests mar Bangladesh PM Hasina’s Washington visit Protesters hold a banner that says “Save Bangladesh’s economy from Hasina’s mismanagement,” at an event held by the Washington chapter of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), outside the World Bank headquarters in Washington, May 1, 2023.
[Photo courtesy BNP]

Protests followed Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Washington this week, with one disintegrating into a street brawl here and spoiling her mission to demonstrate to the West and international lenders that she leads a prosperous and vibrant democracy.

On Tuesday dozens of protesters shut down the street outside The Ritz-Carton hotel where the PM was staying in the Virginia suburbs of the American capital. A day earlier, other expatriate supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party gathered outside the World Bank headquarters, the venue of Hasina’s main meeting in Washington located two blocks from the White House.

“Tysons Blvd is currently closed between Galleria Drive and Park Run Drive. A large group has gathered for a demonstration. Officers are in the area to ensure public safety,” Fairfax County Police said in a tweet early Tuesday evening, referring to the scene outside the Ritz-Carlton.

During Monday’s demonstration in front of the World Bank, a video posted to Facebook by news site BD Mirror showed supporters of the BNP and Hasina’s Awami League going at each other with their fists, sticks, Bangladesh flags, megaphones and other sundry objects. 

Both demonstrations were organized by the Washington, Virginia and Maryland chapters of the BNP, the South Asian nation’s main opposition party. 

Analysts told BenarNews that the main purpose of Hasina’s visit to Washington was to enlist the World Bank’s support for Bangladesh’s distressed economy in an election year. National polls are set be held in December or January 2024.

“Save Bangladesh’s economy from Hasina’s mismanagement,” said a banner that some protesters held up outside the World Bank, according to a photo provided by the BNP.

The World Bank said last month that Bangladesh was seeing “rising inflationary pressure, energy shortages, a balance-of-payments deficit, and a revenue shortfall.”

Ali Riaz, political science professor at Illinois State University, said Bangladesh’s economy had reached this point because of Hasina’s lopsided focus on large, mostly unnecessary infrastructure projects that have led to corruption and wastage of money, and crony capitalism.

“This situation is the making of this government’s economic policies of the last decade,” Riaz told BenarNews this week.

In addition, Riaz and other analysts said the Hasina government had “annihilated civil society” and suppressed criticism, which meant that the lack of accountability let the mismanagement go unchecked. 

They were referring to the alleged crackdown on criticism of the administration through laws including the Digital Security Act, which the United States and the United Nations have criticized as undemocratic and restricting free speech.

On Monday, one of the banners among the protesters read: “Protest against the autocrat Sheikh Hasina.

The BNP held a series of well-attended rallies late last year, despite scores of its members being arrested and restrictions on movement and internet blockades.

The BNP has said it will not participate in the next election until its demands are met. Its main demand is for a caretaker government to be installed during election and post-poll period, a past practice seen as having resulted in relatively more free and credible balloting. 

Hasina’s Awami League government had repealed the provision about caretaker governments from the constitution in 2011.

Bangladesh has been governed since 2009 by Hasina and the Awami League, which secured three consecutive elections, including one boycotted by the BNP and its allies in 2014 and one widely criticized as rigged in 2018.


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