Bangladesh police fire tear gas, arrest opposition activists

Ahammad Foyez
Bangladesh police fire tear gas, arrest opposition activists Police confront Bangladesh Nationalist Party members protesting in the streets of Dhaka, May 23, 2023.

Police fired tear gas and arrested members of Bangladesh’s main opposition party who took to Dhaka’s streets to protest as their leader, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, went on trial Tuesday on new charges of alleged corruption.

About 100 activists with Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party were injured in the street clash, BNP officials said. 

The confrontation began as party supporters gathered in the Science Lab area to demonstrate against what they said was the government’s misuse of the courts to suppress the opposition. Elsewhere, police did not allow the BNP to hold a rally in the city of Rajshahi.

“After attacking a peaceful program without any provocation, police picked up about 25 leaders and activists, including central executive committee member Shaikh Rabiul Alam,” Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the party’s secretary-general, told BenarNews about the confrontation in the Bangladesh capital.

Videos from the scene showed police shooting rounds of tear gas at the protesters.

Ashraf Hossain, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said only 10 BNP activists were arrested and he alleged that they had vandalized a bus and a booth used by traffic police. He added that police were responding to a BNP attack where at least eight officers were injured.

“The road-march program initially was peaceful, but BNP activists went berserk when their procession reached the Science Lab crossing,” Hossain told BenarNews.

Meanwhile in Rajshahi, police stopped a planned BNP rally at a park that was to be followed by a march to the Sonadighi intersection. Officers also locked the party’s office, said Ershad Ali Isha, a BNP leader in the city northwest of Dhaka.

Police denied allegations that they had locked the office.

“Additional members of the law enforcement agencies were deployed to avoid any kind of untoward incident as we had some specific information about BNP regarding the road march,” Bijoy Basak, the additional commissioner for Rajshahi Metropolitan Police, told BenarNews without elaborating.

Zia trial

The former prime minister, who has suffered from poor health in recent years and has been confined to her home following her 2018 conviction on corruption-related charges, did not attend the first day of her trial in a Dhaka court on charges filed by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog in December 2007 over a contract with the Canadian company Niko.

Her lawyer, Zia Uddin Zia, told reporters that the Dhaka Special Judge Court heard testimony from Anti-Corruption Commission officer Mahbubul Alam, the plaintiff in the case.

According to the complaint, Zia and seven others were responsible for the nation losing U.S. $1.9 billion when they declared three gas fields had been abandoned before turning them over to the Canadian company.

The High Court scheduled a hearing for May 30 on a petition filed by Zia challenging the lower court order that resulted in the trial.

Bangladesh police burn BNP posters after firing tear gas to quell a protest in Dhaka, May 23, 2023. [BenarNews]

Tuesday’s confrontation in Dhaka evoked memories of a deadly street clash between BNP supporters and police on Dec. 7, 2022, ahead of a planned rally in the capital and nine other major cities three days later. BNP members had called those rallies to demand that the ruling Awami League allow the creation of a caretaker government ahead of the next general election planned for the end of this year or January 2024.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami party have been in power since 2009, her second tenure as PM of the South Asian nation.

On Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka issued an alert for the possibility of confrontations ahead of the next nationwide vote.

“The next general election is anticipated to occur before or during January 2024, and political party rallies and other election-related activities have already commenced.  Political rallies and demonstrations may be held with increasing frequency or intensity as the general election draws nearer,” it said in the alert. 


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