A day of violence and death: Four dead, hundreds arrested on first day of blockade

There were reports of 26 violent clashes in 14 districts across the country. Two dozen buses were set on fire and 18 buses were vandalised in these incidents.

Men armed with wood pieces and stones vandalise a card in the Akbar Shah police station area on Dhaka-Chattogram highway on 31 October 2023,  the first day of the nationwide 72-hour blockade demanding the resignation of the government. Photo: Mohammad Minhaj Uddin

Men armed with wood pieces and stones vandalise a card in the Akbar Shah police station area on Dhaka-Chattogram highway on 31 October 2023, the first day of the nationwide 72-hour blockade demanding the resignation of the government.

The political turbulence that erupted on 28 October now has spread into a five-day ordeal, leaving a trail of deaths, blood and mayhem with no resolution in sight while the ruling Awami League promised to come down hard on the BNP and arrested more than 500 including two top leaders of the party.

Death and injury numbers continued to rise across the country as at least three people were reportedly killed and over 100 injured yesterday on the first day of the BNP-Jamaat’s nationwide three-day rail, road, and waterways blockade.

Violence continued to spread as well, there were reports of 26 violent clashes in 14 districts across the country. Two dozen buses were set on fire and 18 buses were vandalised in these incidents.

With the time for the next election schedule approaching fast, the current situation bears a frightening resemblance to the period leading to the 2014 elections marked by violent clashes amid opposition boycott.

As of now, the ruling Awami League is determined to keep the situation under control while the opposition BNP wants to paralyse the administration to force the government to resign in favour of a polls-time government.

With both parties locking horns, political observers believe that the situation may continue to deteriorate before the announcement of the election schedule.

The Election Commission will hold dialogues with all 44 registered political parties on 4 November and the chief election commissioner is scheduled to meet with the president the next day to discuss the upcoming election schedule.

The announcement of the election schedule is expected to follow the usual practice, likely in mid-November.

According to the Constitution, parliamentary elections must be held within 90 days before the end of the five-year term of the current parliament which ends on 29 January. The 90-day count will start from 1 November.

Photo: Mohammad Minhaj Uddin

Blockade marred by death, arson

The BNP and Jamaat yesterday enforced the first day of the three-day blockade in protest of the killings of opposition activists during its disrupted Saturday rally and the arrests of opposition party leaders and activists as well as for the resignation of the government.

Records at least three deaths and 105 injuries in the day.  

A Jubo Dal leader, Jillur Rahman, 40, died in a road accident while trying to flee from a police chase during the BNP’s blockade in Sylhet’s Lala Bazar.

However, the BNP claimed that Jillur was arrested during a procession and was taken to the police station with critical injuries.

In Kuliarchar of Kishoreganj, BNP claimed at least two died during a clash with the police. However, Kuliarchar police sub-inspector Md Golam Mostafa confirmed the death of one.

The BNP has called hartal in Kishoreganj and Sylhet over the deaths.

Among the injured yesterday were 71 BNP men, 29 policemen and five ruling party men. 

Besides, at least 500 BNP-Jamaat men were arrested across the country. 

Throughout the day, Dhaka experienced minimal traffic. The number of public buses increased slightly in the afternoon and evening. 

The capital was effectively isolated from the surrounding districts with no buses leaving or entering Dhaka. Even trucks with goods did not run on the highways even though there was extensive patrolling by law enforcers.

BNP returning to rhythm

On the first day of the blockade, BNP activists showed increased presence at picket point compared to the hartal on Sunday. The presence of BNP activists on the streets yesterday increased notably nationwide. 

BNP leaders and supporters from various districts were seen taking positions along highways, at times resorting to roadblocks using sticks, tire fires, and projectiles. 

According to BNP sources, the party is determined to employ its full organisational strength to paralyse the country ahead of the election schedule announcement. 

Their objective is to cut off all transportation links between the entire country and Dhaka to prevent the upcoming election at any cost.

BNP leaders told The Business Standard that once Dhaka is isolated, BNP leaders and activists intend to reenter the city and plan to hold a massive rally in Dhaka before the forthcoming elections.

To prepare for possible government crackdowns, BNP-Jamaat sources have directed third-tier leaders and activists to sustain a three-month nationwide movement from November to January, requiring thorough preparation.

A senior BNP leader told TBS that the government will not be able to conduct elections as it did in 2014 and 2018, thanks to the significantly increased international support the BNP is receiving in the current movement.

Meanwhile, BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhal Kabir Rizvi Tuesday, after the prime minister’s press briefing, strongly condemned the government for the deaths of BNP activists.

He said the government has given licence to the police to kill indiscriminately to stop BNP’s movement to restore democracy. 

“The current police force is the guardian of looting, money laundering, lawlessness and injustice of the Awami fascist government. The police are no longer a state force. They have forgotten to behave according to the law,” he said.

The BNP leader also accused the prime minister of spreading “a stream of lies” during her press conference regarding the party’s Nayapaltan rally on Saturday.

“What the prime minister said [on 28 October’s violence] was a stream of lies…I would like to tell the prime minister that videos on all things that happened that day were captured as everyone holds a camera now,” he added.

He said the government might try to intimidate people with threats and let loose the law enforcers but it will not be able to scare and silence everyone.

AL to take hard stance

The ruling party and the government have indicated they are going to beef up security measures and intensify the crackdown on the opposition before the elections. 

The Awami League, through a press release yesterday, said its “Peace and Development” rally will continue across the country to prevent BNP-Jamaat anarchy.

The release reads that the Bangladesh Awami League’s nationwide peace and development rally programme to protest BNP-Jamaat’s terrorism, sabotage, and anarchy will continue until the moment before the announcement of the upcoming 12th National Parliament election schedule.

It said the leaders of Bangladesh Awami League and all affiliated organisations are being requested by organisational instructions to the district/metropolitan and upazila/ police station/municipal branches to carry out this programme on a large scale.

The notice to the Awami League activists states that the BNP-Jamaat “evil forces” cannot cause damage to people’s life and property, destroy state resources and create destructive inaction and any kind of terrorism in the name of strike, blockade and assembly. 

The notice also asked the Bangladesh Awami League leaders and activists to take a vigilant position to prevent this.

Meanwhile, Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina regarding Saturday’s violence said she would “burn the hands of those who start the fire.”

“I won’t let them get away. They won’t be able to stop the elections… the people are with us. You can’t harm the people in the name of politics.”

Asked about the next national election, she said, “The election will happen and will be on time. I don’t care who says or does what.”

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