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Dhaka in turmoil: Arrests, raids during mass protests

Publication Date : 01-05-2012

 

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Amid raids and arrests, senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders have gone into hiding, as the government's sudden tough stance against the opposition's continuous agitation yesterday sent panic sweeping through the ranks of the 18-party alliance.

Police arrested the BNP's Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi in the capital's Kakrail area around two hours after yesterday's dawn-to-dusk hartal (mass protests), the last of the two back-to-back shutdowns called by the BNP-led opposition alliance to protest the disappearance of its leader M Ilias Ali.

Earlier, during the hartal hours and on Sunday night, law enforcers rounded up 10 opposition men, including former student leader Kamruzzaman Ratan -- a close associate of Ilias Ali -- and former deputy minister Sirajul Haque.

In the early hours yesterday, police raided BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir's Uttara residence. In the afternoon, they swooped on standing committee member Mirza Abbas' house at South Shahjahanpur.

Unlike on other hartal days, Fakhrul and other top leaders were not seen in the party's central office at Nayapaltan yesterday. They had gone into hiding fearing arrests in two cases filed for explosions in the secretariat compound and the torching of buses on Sunday, insiders said.

Fakhrul and several senior leaders of the BNP and its allies are accused in the two cases, filed on Sunday night.

Yesterday's lockdown ended without any major incidents of violence with a thin presence of opposition pickets on the streets.

The main opposition party termed the cases against its leaders "ill-motivated" and called a countrywide demonstration for tomorrow in protest at the raids and filing of the cases.

Hours before his arrest, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi at a press briefing at the party's Nayapaltan office said fresh agitation programmes would be announced from a protest rally tomorrow.

Asking the government to withdraw the cases, party's senior leader Moudud Ahmed at the briefing said cases and raids would not be able to weaken the agitation and that the government would be removed through a movement.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku at a briefing at his office said the BNP leaders were named in the cases on the basis of intelligence and more opposition leaders would be accused if their names came up.

He claimed the violence during Sunday's hartal took place on instructions of the BNP high-ups.

Political tensions have been running high since the disappearance of Ilias Ali, an organising secretary of BNP and also a former lawmaker, and his driver around midnight of April 17 from the capital's Banani area.

On April 19, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia alleged some government agencies had picked up Ilias Ali. On the same day, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Ilias might be hiding himself on Khaleda Zia's instructions.

Two weeks on, law enforcers are yet find the two.

In protest at the incident, BNP enforced back-to-back countrywide hartals across the country from April 22 to 24.

The law enforcers raided Mirza Fakhrul's Uttara residence early yesterday. However, Fakhrul was not home.

Considering the distance between his house and the party office, he usually spends the night before a BNP-enforced hartal day at places adjacent to the Nayapaltan office, party sources said.

Police scaled the boundary wall of Fakhrul's house around 4:30am and knocked on the door.

Rahat Ara Begum, his wife, opened the door and allowed the law enforcers in. They combed through all the rooms before they left, Rahat told The Daily Star.

Police also raided BNP leader Mirza Abbas' South Shahjahanpur residence yesterday afternoon to arrest him in connection with the case filed for torching of buses. He was not home at the time either.

Afroza Abbas, wife of the BNP leader, said some 25 cops entered her house around 2:30pm and wanted to know the whereabouts of her husband. The team then searched the house for nearly 30 minutes before leaving.

Police also searched the house of Khairul Kabir Khokon and his wife Shirin Sultana's at the capital's Khilgaon. Both of them are former lawmakers.

A raid was also conducted at BNP leader Habib-un-Nabi Sohel's house in the capital.

In a late night development, police raided the house of Jubo Dal president Moazzem Hossain Alal's Lalmatia residence in the capital around 11:00pm yesterday, when he was not home.

Earlier on Sunday night Tejgaon police filed a case against 44 leaders and activists of the BNP-led 18-party alliance for torching a vehicle near the Prime Minister's Office that day.

The accused include Mirza Fakhrul, party standing committee members Mirza Abbas, Goyeshwar Chandra Roy and Hannan Shah, party Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, party lawmaker Shahiduddin Chowdhury Anee, and Liberal Democratic Party President Oli Ahmed.

On the same day, Shahbagh police accused 28 opposition leaders in a case in connection with the "bomb" blasts on the secretariat compound, with Mirza Fakhrul the main accused.

The chief justice yesterday turned down an appeal to constitute a special High Court bench for an urgent hearing on bail petitions of five top BNP leaders accused in the two cases.

The five are Mirza Fakhrul, Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, MK Anwar, Sadeque Hossain Khoka and Ruhul Kabir Rizvi.

A group of senior pro-BNP lawyers led by Moudud Ahmed and Zainul Abedin made the appeal, meeting Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain at his Supreme Court office yesterday afternoon.

Zainul Abedin told The Daily Star that the chief justice refused to constitute a special HC bench as the court hours had expired by the time they made the request.

“The chief justice, however, advised us to move the bail petitions before a regular bench of the High Court on Wednesday [tomorrow].”

He added they will place the petitions before the HC tomorrow.

Yesterday, all educational institutions, business establishments and most shops and shopping malls by the major thoroughfares remained closed. The government offices remained opened.

The city started to get back to normalcy in the afternoon, with the opposition not declaring any more shutdowns.

On Wednesday, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday issued a four-day ultimatum to the government to locate Ilias Ali and his driver, or her party would go for tougher agitation.

The BNP-led 18-party alliance called the back-to-back shutdowns on Saturday afternoon.

Police picked up former deputy minister for health Sirajul Haque on his arrival in front of BNP's Nayapaltan office yesterday around 7:40am.

A running battle took place after pro-hartal activists brought out a procession and were jointly resisted by Bangladesh Chhatra League members and law enforcers at Adabor around 7:00am, leaving one injured. Police picked up one from the spot.

Pickets exploded five cocktails at different areas in the city.

Like recent hartals, the BNP headquarters remained cordoned off since the morning. Law enforcers did not allow party leaders and activists to hold processions or rallies.

Large contingents of law enforcers were seen patrolling the main thoroughfare and key points of the capital.

Most passenger buses and private cars stayed off roads fearing vandalism. A few CNG-run auto-rickshaws were seen on major roads of the city.

At least 15 buses started from the city's Sayedabad Bus Terminal for Comilla and Narsingdi in the morning. There was no report of any long-route bus leaving the other terminals in the capital.

Moudud Ahmed, a member of BNP standing committee, said filing cases against the party leaders and activists will not weaken the opposition movement.

“The government is committing crimes one after another; it is only a matter of time before it will fall,” he said during a press conference at the BNP chairperson's Gulshan office.

Asked about the whereabouts of Mirza Fakhrul, Moudud, skirting around the question, said two cases had been filed against the acting secretary general.

To a query on alleged involvement of the accused leaders in violence, Moudud replied, “Top leaders like Fakhrul can never be associated with crimes like vandalism or bomb explosion.”

LDP President Oli Ahmed in a statement said he has been on a tour in Chittagong and Cox's Bazar since April 26 to attend some family programmes. “It's really funny that cases have been filed against me while I'm not even in the capital.”

 

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