Bangladesh Axes New Year Fun as Stick-Wielding Women Join Fight

Police in Bangladesh’s biggest city banned public New Year’s Eve celebrations as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s party deployed women with sticks to fight opponents amid escalating violence before a Jan. 5 election.

Gatherings on roads, highways and flyovers in the capital will be banned on the night of Dec. 31, and residents are advised to be indoors by 8:00 p.m., Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Benazir Ahmed told reporters today. Two people died yesterday when supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party tried to rally in a bid to scrap the vote.

The women’s wing of Hasina’s ruling Awami League party gathered today in front of the Supreme Court, wielding sticks and shouting slogans against the BNP, television footage showed. The opposition party is boycotting the vote because it wants a caretaker government to oversee the election, a practice scrapped by Hasina’s government.

The power struggle in Asia’s fifth-biggest country has killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds of others since October. The violence risks disruptions to the world’s second-biggest apparel exporter and threatens to raise tensions across South Asia.

Security forces parked six sand-filled trucks on the road to the house of opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia as they continued a blockade that began last week.

‘Repression’

“This is nothing but repression by an undemocratic government,” Zia told reporters yesterday outside her gate while surrounded by police. The opposition and its allies will continue to demonstrate, she said.

Police had denied permission for yesterday’s rally and arrested hundreds of Zia’s supporters to foil her efforts. Security forces used water cannons to bar a group of lawyers from marching against the government, television footage showed, while thousands were left stranded after authorities halted public transportation in Dhaka.

A 22-year-old law student with suspected ties to the opposition-aligned Jamaat-e-Islami party died of bullet wounds during clashes in Dhaka yesterday, police inspector Mozammel Hoque said by phone. A security guard was killed in a blast at the city’s railway station, the Daily Star reported.

Syed Ashraful Islam, the Awami League’s general secretary, described the opposition rally as a “damp squib.”

“If a balloon is pricked by a pin, the air gets out,” he told reporters yesterday. “The opposition rally was like a shrunken balloon.”

More than 100 people have died and hundreds were injured since October in violence tied to the elections and a war crimes tribunal, Human Rights Watch said on Dec. 17.

Boycott

The U.S. last week expressed disappointment with Bangladesh’s political leaders and joined the European Union in declining to send observers for next month’s election. A boycott by opposition parties led by the BNP allowed Hasina’s Awami League to win 127 of 154 uncontested seats out of 300, Bangladesh’s election commission announced this month.

Elections in the remaining 146 constituencies will be held at the beginning of January.

Bangladesh has seen three coups and two dozen smaller rebellions since the nation gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 in a war that left millions dead. Last year, Bangladesh’s army announced that it foiled an attempt by former and serving officers to oust Hasina.

Earlier this month, Bangladesh put to death a top leader of an Islamic party aligned with the opposition BNP for war crimes that took place four decades ago, the first execution stemming from a tribunal established in 2009. A year earlier, Hasina’s ruling party had campaigned to set up the tribunal in winning the last election.

To contact the reporter on this story: Arun Devnath in Dhaka at adevnath@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

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