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Blockade halts Bangladesh

Haroon Habib

Deployment of Army ordered to meet Opposition's protests

  • Deployment was not discussed at the emergency meeting
  • Khaleda Zia has instructed her supporters to `retaliate' if attacked


    UP IN ARMS: Hundreds of Bangladesh Awami League activists march through the Tongi streets on the outskirts of Dhaka on Sunday. Thousands of Opposition protesters launched a nationwide blockade demanding electoral reforms.

    DHAKA: The caretaker government in Bangladesh under President Iajuddin Ahmed on Sunday decided to deploy the Army to support law-enforcers in meeting the Opposition's nation-wide blockade that halted the country on its very first day.

    The order to deploy the Army `to assist the law-enforcing agencies' was signed by the Home Secretary. Local TV channels transmitted the news on Sunday night giving no details as to when and where the Army would be deployed. However, Information Adviser Mahbubul Alam, who is also the spokesman of the Government, said there was no discussion on it in the emergency Cabinet meeting held at Bangabhaban on Sunday night, chaired by the President and chief adviser to the caretaker government. The meeting was adjourned till Monday morning.

    Earlier in the day, a letter was sent to all deputy commissioners asking them to arrange the required number of magistrates who will lead the respective teams of the Army and the law-enforcers. No further details were made available.

    The decision to deploy the Army was taken against the backdrop of the massive show of popular support in favour of the 14-party combine, which launched road, rail, highways and waterways blockade bringing the whole country to a standstill.

    The Opposition combine led by the Awami League chief, Sheikh Hasina, has announced that the blockade would continue till the President acts neutrally to hold a free, fair and credible election in January 2007.

    Dhaka and all major towns were cut off from the rest of the country by the unprecedented transport blockade to press for electoral reforms and constitutional neutrality of the caretaker government.

    Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of the capital and all divisional, district upazila towns. The blockade was peaceful, although some incidents of attack on trains and buses were reported from across the country when protesters forced a few trains and vehicles to ply. No reports of violence were reported.

    The blockade was enforced on the expiry of the second deadline by the Opposition combine to Mr. Ahmed to prove his constitutional neutrality. On the expiry of their ultimatum on Saturday, the political parties accused him of implementing the `agenda of the BNP-Jamaat alliance' and charged him with pushing the country towards confrontation.

    While describing the blockade as `anarchic,' the immediate-past ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and its fundamentalist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, earlier vowed to `resist' the blockade but later withdrew their plan to avoid a face-to-face situation. But BNP chief Khaleda Zia instructed her supporters to `retaliate' if attacked.

    Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina earlier made a call for people from all disciplines to join the siege programme and make it "an all-out success to save the country and its democracy".

    She asserted that they would call it off only when a congenial atmosphere for holding free, fair and credible polls was guaranteed.

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