DHAKA: Bomb blasts and arrests marked an opposition-called general strike in Bangladesh today in protest of a court order jailing 33 of the alliance’s leaders.
No injuries were reported from several crude bombs that exploded in Dhaka. Schools and businesses were shut in the capital, and public life was disrupted in other major cities and towns during the shutdown. The United News of Bangladesh agency said police arrested at least 17 activists in Dhaka. ATN Bangla television station said more than 100 opposition supporters were arrested in various districts.
A court yesterday had denied bail to 33 opposition leaders charged with involvement in an arson attack during a strike last month. The defendants include former Cabinet ministers and the acting secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. It heads the 18-party opposition alliance.
The opposition says the arson charge is politically motivated and the bail rejection is aimed at suppressing the opposition movement.
Political tensions have sharply escalated since Elias Ali, an organising secretary in Zia’s party, and his driver went missing April 17 from a street in Dhaka. The opposition blames the government and its security agencies for his disappearance, which they deny.
A top business leader today urged political parties to avoid confrontation.
AK Azad, president of Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries, in a pre-budget discussion in Dhaka asked Finance Minister AMA Muhith to resolve the disputes in consultation with the prime minister.
“We all know confrontational political programs like general strikes largely affect the country’s economy. We do not want such programs,” he said.
Zia’s party, meanwhile, announced in a statement that a two-hour token hunger strike protest by opposition lawmakers will be held on the parliament building premises on Saturday to demand release of the leaders.
Rights groups have counted at least 22 disappearances this year and more than 50 since 2010, mostly of politicians. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged the government to investigate.
The opposition also set a June 10 ultimatum for the government to restore a caretaker government system to oversee the next national elections, due in 2014. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government scrapped the 15-year-old system last year in what the opposition says was part of a plan to rig the elections.
Police today cordoned off the headquarters of Zia’s and scuffled with those who tried to enter. Witnesses say Khairul Kabir Khokon, education affairs secretary of the party, was arrested.
General strikes are common opposition tactics in Bangladesh, a fragile parliamentary democracy, to embarrass the government.