One police officer was killed and more than 100 people were injured in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Saturday during protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Demonstrators are also calling for free and fair elections under a caretaker government.
Bangladesh is due to hold a national election by January next year, but the BNP is demanding Hasina to step down immediately. The ruling party maintains that the next general election must be overseen by the current government as per the provisions of the constitution. The ruling Awami League party was accused of rigging the last two elections in 2014 and 2018, and of cracking down on thousands of opposition activists during her nearly 15-year rule since 2009.
Hasina, who has maintained tight control since coming to power in 2009, has been accused of authoritarianism, human rights violations, cracking down on free speech and suppressing dissent while jailing her critics.
Dozens injured in clashes
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) who gathered chanting anti-government slogans. Dozens of vehicles, including police vans and ambulances, were set on fire, according to police and media reports. Hundreds of opposition party activists were arrested, BNP leaders said.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruq Hossain said one police officer was killed and 41 others injured in clashes with protesters. Nine journalists were attacked and injured while trying to cover the clashes, according to media reports. An opposition spokesman, Zahiruddin Swapan, said more than 1 million activists joined their rally, but Hossain put the number at about 200,000.
The BNP has called for a day-long nationwide strike on Sunday. “The strike was called nationwide to protest against the attacks carried out by the police on the opposition activists,” said party spokesman Zahir Uddin Swapan.
Police and opposition trade blame
Witnesses said the violence erupted when the opposition protesters attacked a bus carrying ruling Awami League activists. The activists were on their way to another rally organized by the party to counter the opposition rally. Police officer Harun-Or-Rashid said the BNP activists attacked members of the law enforcement agencies, public establishments and set fire to vehicles without any provocation.
“They were supposed to conduct the rally peacefully; instead, they went on a rampage and caused harm to life and property,” he said adding that the law enforcement agencies had launched an investigation into the acts of sabotage.
However, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir accused security forces of ruining a “peaceful” rally. “Our rally was peaceful. But the authorities have used excessive force to ruin our rally. They attacked our people mercilessly,” Swapan said.