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BNP leaders held on strike-eve - Govt move leads Opposition to extend shutdown duration to 84 hours

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 10.11.13

Dhaka, Nov. 9 (PTI): Five top Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders were arrested on the eve of a nationwide shutdown called to push for the restoration of a neutral caretaker government for the general elections.

This prompted the Opposition parties to increase the duration of the strike from 72 to 84 hours.

Three members of the BNP’s highest policy-making committee — Moudud Ahmed, M.K. Anwar and Rafiqul Islam Mia — were arrested by plainclothes policemen overnight. They were taken into custody as they were returning home after attending a newspaper’s anniversary celebrations.

Later, police detained BNP chief Khaleda Zia’s adviser, business tycoon Abdul Awal Mintoo, and her special assistant Shimul Biswas.

Mintoo and Biswas were whisked away from outside Khaleda’s residence at 1am (local time), reports said.

Dhaka’s metropolitan magistrate Zainab Begum rejected the bail applications of the BNP leaders and sent them to jail. The court adjourned the matter till Thursday.

The arrests added to the tension between the BNP and the ruling Awami League.

In protest against the arrest of the leaders, the BNP extended the 72-hour shutdown beginning tomorrow by 12 hours, saying the strike would continue until Wednesday evening.

Angry Opposition activists took to the streets, setting several vehicles on fire and exploding crude bombs. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Witnesses said police were deployed on the streets and around Khaleda’s office and residence. A police officer described the intensified vigilance as “steps for her own security”.

BNP alleged that the police carried out the midnight raids at the homes of several party leaders who went underground to evade arrest.

Earlier, the police sought a 20-day remand for the five BNP leaders, saying that they were involved in an attempt to kill policemen and create unrest in Dhaka. The leaders were shown as being arrested in two separate cases.

Last night, information minister Hassanul Haq Inu said the government was forced to arrest the BNP leaders in an “extraordinary situation”.

Yesterday, the BNP-led 18-party Opposition alliance announced a 72-hour nationwide strike from tomorrow after enforcing two back-to- back 60-hour shutdowns since October 27 on the same issue. This will be the third prolonged strike in two weeks.

The alliance called the first 60-hour shutdown from October 27 and second one from November 4 to press for the restoration of the neutral caretaker government that will oversee polls scheduled to be held by January 25, 2014.

A total of 26 people have died in violence linked to political turmoil since October 25.

“We were forced to take the tougher stand in an extra- ordinary situation to protect the nation from acts of anarchy ...the people are getting killed,” Inu said.

He did not elaborate but according to reports, the Opposition leaders in a closed door meeting with Khaleda last night planned to go ahead with the strike.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda are the most powerful leaders in Bangladesh and they have alternated as Premier since 1991. Hasina last month proposed an all-party government for election oversight, but Zia rejected the proposal and floated a formula for creating a neutral caretaker regime.

Communications minister Obaidul Quader said on Thursday that members of Hasina’s government would start resigning from tomorrow to create the opportunity for forming an election-time government. The ruling party leaders say they are ready to form a government with other parties if Khaleda’s party refuses to join.

Today, police also raided houses of a former speaker and four other leaders.