Bangladesh Nationalist Party has called for a series of protest rallies across the country, demanding PM Hasina step down and declare early election.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is under pressure by the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who are demanding her to step down and call early election.
In the country’s capital city of Dhaka, the protesters have gathered since at least mid-week, asking for the release of their arrested party leaders and workers.
Thousands of people were seen marching down Golapbagh field - the main protest site - since Friday afternoon, after the police rejected their earlier request to gather around the party’s headquarters.
The police has also launched a crackdown against the protesters, detaining leaders mobilising the crowd on the ground. As per the police, at least five BNP members have been apprehended during different raids.
The Bangladeshi premier Hasina, as well as the leader of the BNP Khaleda Zia, have yet to make a statement about the ongoing protests.
The Dhaka police have already detained up to 500 BNP activists on three separate charges, including assaulting the police, Anadolu Agency reported.
Furthermore, the police has filed a case against additional 200 BNP leaders and activists on charges of planting a crude bomb at a school in the southern coastal district of Babuganj, roughly 177 kilometres from the capital Dhaka, various local media sources said.
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Tens of thousands of supporters of Bangladesh's main opposition party descend on Dhaka to protest against the govt of PM Sheikh Hasina and demand new elections pic.twitter.com/ZNSsK4yS4e— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) December 10, 2022
What led to the protests?
The BNP has called for a series of protest rallies across the country, demanding Hasina step down and declare early election. The opposition is also making calls for its leader, the former PM Khaleda Zia, to be made in-charge of the caretaker setup.
The protests were initially sparked by hikes in fuel prices, frequent, lengthy power cuts because of the fuel shortage, but has since taken a different turn.
With the police crackdowns still underway, the opposition party has decided to continue with the protests.
“I urge all our leaders and activists, as well as other parties interested in supporting us in the anti-government movement, to attend Saturday’s rally at Golapbagh,” Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, a central BNP leader, said during a press conference.
The BNP, along with other political parties and several civil society groups, has urged the government to reinstate the three-month non-political caretaker government system in preparation for the national election, scheduled to take place in December next year.
How the ongoing protest of BNP became a movement of this poor people in Bangladesh. https://t.co/QfibeQMEwK— Saif Hasnat (@saifhasnat) December 10, 2022
The ruling Awami League government, however, has rejected the demand, saying that such a move would be in violation of the country’s constitution.
Until Saturday, at least one person was reportedly killed as protesters clashed with the police, with more than 100 injured. As a result, the police cordoned off a significant area, effectively paralysing normalcy in the megacity.
Since then, hundreds of police officers and members of other law enforcement agencies have been deployed in the area, cordoning off the city’s major arteries with riot cars, water cannons and prison cars.
A history of varying political fortunes
According to BBC Bangla, the BNP has been largely inactive in the streets since Hasina’s party swept the general election in 2014.
However, in the last few months, the BNP has created a support base by successfully organising rallies in different cities.
Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, a member of the BNP’s highest policy-making Forum Standing Committee, told BBC Bangla that: “Dhaka rally will be the last gathering of our divisional rallies.”
Political analysts from the country say the BNP has resumed its political activities after a long time and wants to do a “show-down” through its “grand gathering” in Dhaka. “Through this gathering, they want to show the people of the country and foreign observers that they have a lot of support politically,” they say.
Interestingly, in the country’s political history, the ruling Awami League had a similar demand for a caretaker setup back in 1996.
When the Awami League started its country-wide movement and protests 26 years ago, they, too, demanded installing a caretaker government and the BNP, which was in power at the time, had been forced to do so.
It appears the main fear of the Awami League is that if they left the field open to the BNP, the party might get the same success as it did in 1996.
Meanwhile, the White House has called on the Hasina government to investigate reports of violence coming out of the ongoing political protest, urging all parties to exercise restraint.
The United States is concerned about the reports and is monitoring developments in Bangladesh “very, very closely”, national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday. “We call on all parties in Bangladesh to respect the rule of law (and) refrain from violence.”
Many rights groups, too, have been calling for restraint as the situation threatens to escalate.
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