independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Student killed in protest crackdown

Security officials surrounded the home of Bangladesh's former prime minister Khaleda Zia in Dhaka (AP)

At least one person has died after security forces and opposition activists clashed in Bangladesh's capital, as thousands of police took to the streets to foil a mass rally calling on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to cancel upcoming elections.

Sheikh Hasina's rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, is expected to address the rally in Dhaka later on Sunday in defiance of a government ban on large political gatherings.

Authorities have detained hundreds of people in a crackdown ahead of next weekend's elections, according to reports, further deepening the impoverished South Asian nation's political crisis.

Security officials surrounded Ms Zia's home in Dhaka's upscale Gulshan area, where most foreign embassies are located, and parked sand-laden trucks in an apparent effort to obstruct Ms Zia from leaving her home. Police denied that the measures were taken to stop her from joining the rally.

Ms Zia attempted to come out of her home, but police built a barricade that prevented her from getting to her car. TV video showed her condemning the government, saying, "Stop this."

Meanwhile, thousands of security forces, mainly police, tried to prevent the activists from rallying.

A 21-year-old student was killed in Dhaka's Malibagh area when security officials fired rubber bullets to disperse the activists, said police official Mozammel Haque. Witnesses said the violence broke out after a group of activists from the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party began marching in the streets.

Stick-wielding ruling party supporters chased stone-throwing opposition activists on the premises of the Supreme Court. Dozens of people were injured in that violence, according to witnesses.

Public transportation in Dhaka was suspended, cutting the capital off from the rest of the country. The opposition blamed police for preventing buses and other vehicles from travelling to the city. Traffic was thin on Dhaka's usually clogged streets, with many people staying home in fear of violence.

Local media reported that more than 650 people have been detained since Friday as part of a nationwide crackdown ahead of the elections on January 5, which the opposition is boycotting.

Opposition parties said those detained are their activists, but police said they were taken in on specific charges to prevent acts of sabotage.

The opposition insists Sheikh Hasina should resign and hand over power to an independent caretaker to oversee the polls. He has rejected the demand and vowed to go ahead with the elections.

Sunday's rally was seen as the last major attempt by the opposition to derail the election, but the protest was unlikely to succeed because of the government's hard-line approach.

More than 150 people have died in political violence in Bangladesh since the crisis intensified in October.

The conflict pits an opposition alliance led by Ms Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party against Sheikh Hasina, who accuses her of protecting people being tried or convicted of war crimes involving the nation's 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the main partner of Ms Zia's party, wants the government to halt the war crimes trials of its leaders.

Ms Zia says the trials are politically motivated to weaken the opposition, an allegation the government has denied. Jamaat-e-Islami is banned from taking part in the election.

Press Association

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