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Bangladesh Opposition Party Plans Rally Defying Police Orders

Outside Khaleda Zia's House
Police stand guard in front of the house of Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in Dhaka on Dec. 26, 2013. Photographer: Munir uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

Bangladesh’s opposition party said it will hold an anti-election rally after its leader Khaleda Zia’s house was surrounded by forces in a deepening power struggle even as the police denied permission.

Security forces have blocked access to Zia’s house and office in the capital Dhaka, preventing other leaders of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party from meeting her, spokesman Nazrul Islam Khan said yesterday. The party is boycotting Jan. 5 elections and called for the rally on Dec. 29 to scrap the polls, he said. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police denied permission for the gathering, citing security reasons, Channel 24 reported.

“Even if I’m not there with you on the streets during the protests due to these obstacles, you continue the movement and continue until the government collapses,” Zia said in televised comments yesterday.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s move to abandon the past practice of allowing a caretaker government to oversee the vote has added to tensions with opponents already inflamed over recent convictions in a war crimes tribunal. Failure to agree on rules for picking the country’s leaders risks more violence in the world’s second-biggest garment exporter where the economy has grown by about 6 percent a year on average since 2008.

“Any attempt to prevent the general election will prompt legal action,” Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu told reporters in Dhaka on Dec. 26. The rally announced by Zia’s BNP is a “march for destruction, not for democracy,” he said.

U.S. Disappointed

The U.S. this 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. More than 100 people have been killed and hundreds more injured over the last two months in violence tied to the elections and the war crimes tribunal, Human Rights Watch said in a Dec. 17 report.

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.

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