By Ahammad Foyez
At least one man was killed and scores were injured when violence broke out Wednesday as police clashed with a big crowd of supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party outside its headquarters in Dhaka, officials and activists said.
The scenes of mayhem unfolded along a busy street in the Naya Paltan district with crowd-control police firing weapons and BNP members throwing stones.
Thousands of BNP supporters had gathered in the area on Wednesday ahead of a massive rally that the opposition party plans to hold on Dec. 10 in demanding that the ruling Awami League party make way for a caretaker administration to oversee the next general election.
“Several wounded people including one identified as Makbul Hossain, 43, were brought to Dhaka Medical College Hospital,” Inspector Bachchu Miah, chief of the police outpost there, told BenarNews.
“He died on his way to treatment,” Miah said, adding that Hossain had been struck by birdshot fired from a shotgun.
Elsewhere, at least 10 people were treated at Dhaka’s Kakrail Islami Bank Central Hospital, according to a medical officer.
Authorities have vowed to prevent the Dec. 10 rally from occurring on Dhaka streets and have suggested it be moved to a safe location in the capital.
The Saturday rally, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of BNP supporters, will mark the end of weekly rallies that the BNP has been staging in cities outside Dhaka since October and that have attracted huge crowds, the party said.
The focal point of the rallies is BNP’s unwavering demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League government allow a caretaker government to oversee the upcoming general election, due in December 2023 or January 2024.
Her government is refusing to budge on this demand. Hasina has been in power uninterrupted since January 2009. The BNP accuses the Awami League of massive vote tampering in the last general election, held in December 2018.
“The police cannot allow them to hold a rally of 1 million people on the street as they have planned. There are questions of security and peace,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Khandaker Golam Faruk told reporters Wednesday evening.
“We asked them to hold the rally in the Suhrawardy Udyan, Tongi Ijtema field or in the Trade Fair Ground in Purbachal, which can accommodate 1 million people.”
According to BNP members, Wednesday’s gathering started peacefully.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged that police had previously arrested more than 500 leaders and activists, including Senior Joint Secretary Gen. Ruhul Kabir Rizvi and central leaders Abdus Salam, Aman Ullah Alam and Khairul Kabir Khokon.
After he ran from the scene of Wednesday’s violence, a leader of the party’s student wing, Chhatra Dal, blamed police.
“Police attacked the activists who gathered in front of the party office without any provocation. Many of our brothers were injured in the police attack,” Syeda Sumaiya told BenarNews. “The police are arresting whoever they can find.”
A member of the opposition party’s youth front, Juba Dal, told BenarNews that BNP activists had been chanting slogans in front of the BNP headquarters.
“At around 2:45 p.m., hundreds of police attacked the BNP activists. They charged with batons, fired bullets and tear gas shells on the activists without any provocation,” said Mohammad Rashid who suffered leg and hand injuries.
During the clashes, Fakhrul, the party’s secretary general, told journalists he expected that police might stage a plot involving bombs at the central office as an excuse to arrest party activists.
Fakhrul said hundreds of police armed with assault rifles and water cannons raided the party’s central office and adjoining areas, and attacked party leaders. As the search went on, he said, police did not allow him or other members to enter the office.
“It is a gross violation of human rights,” Fakhrul said before sitting down on the sidewalk in front of the office and remaining there until 8 p.m.
After the search, police said they had recovered explosives.
“Huge bombs, explosives and bomb making materials have been recovered,” Biplob Kumar Sarker, thejoint commissioner of Dhaka Metropoltian Police, told reporters at 8:30 p.m.
“The police have been staying here patiently since noon today, but they threw bricks at officers,” Sarker said. “They were hurling bombs from the third floor of the BNP office, hurting our several members.”
He did not release any information about injuries suffered by officers.
US, UN concerns
Meanwhile, the United States Embassy in Dhaka issued a notice on Wednesday warning citizens to remain vigilant in light of the Dec. 10 rally, saying it could turn confrontational and escalate into violence.
Elsewhere, the United Nations resident coordinator in Bangladesh raised concerns in a Wednesday press release, noting that Dec. 10 is observed around the world as Human Rights Day.
In early November, both the U.N.’s resident coordinator, Gwyn Lewis, and the U.S. State Department had expressed concern about the climate for politics and political gatherings in the South Asian nation ahead of the next general election.
“As Bangladesh is coming closer to its national election next year, we remind Bangladesh of its commitments, as a U.N. member state, to free expression, media freedom and peaceful assembly among others written in the declaration. We reaffirm the U.N.’s full support to Bangladesh in upholding its commitments,” Lewis said on Wednesday.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, the U.N. in solidarity with all Bangladeshis, recommits itself to uphold the core values of dignity, equality and liberty, including of thought and conscience.”