Protest calls in Bangladesh after Zia aide is shot

Burning vehicles, set on fire by opposition demonstrators, are pictured during violent protests in Dhaka on January 6, 2015. Bangladesh police January 6 arrested the deputy leader of the country's main opposition party over accusations that he incited a series of violent protests by supporters, a senior officer said. AFP PHOTO/STR

Vehicles burn during violent opposition protests earlier this month

Unidentified gunmen have shot and injured a senior adviser to Bangladesh’s main opposition leader, in an attack that drew international condemnation and stoked a new round of protest and political violence in the south Asian country.

Reaz Rahman, who works for Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist party, was wounded and his car set alight in an attack by six men in central Dhaka on Tuesday evening. The incident happened metres from groups of police who, the BNP says, have blockaded Ms Zia in her office for 11 days.

 The opposition, which has threatened a day of protests and transport shutdowns on Thursday in response, said the attack on the 74-year old former foreign minister was an attempt by the Awami League government of prime minister Sheikh Hasina to intimidate Ms Zia and her party.

The police said they were seeking the “miscreants” behind the attack, which Ms Zia called “an act of cowardice and terror”.

“The ruling party will have to shoulder the full responsibility for the evil attempt to create anarchy in the country by resorting to terrorism, killings, secret attacks and enforced disappearances,” she said.

At least 10 people have been killed in the past two weeks and several opposition leaders have been detained. Four people were burnt to death in a firebombing attack on a bus in Rangpur, northern Bangladesh, on Wednesday and police said they had arrested eight opposition militants.

The government made no immediate comment on the shooting, although Ms Hasina did condemn the bus attack. “This is not politics. It is terrorism and militancy,” she said.

The shooting of Mr Rahman drew condemnation from the US. “The United States is shocked and saddened by the attack,” the state department said in a statement. “We urge the government of Bangladesh to investigate, track down, and hold accountable those responsible for these acts. We urge all sides to refrain from acts of violence.”

Ms Zia’s BNP boycotted the general election a year ago after complaining of harassment and the conduct of the polls. That allowed Ms Hasina to return to power, albeit with only a low turnout of voters, but paved the way for this month’s demonstrations and protests on the election’s first anniversary.

Many of Bangladesh’s 150m inhabitants, including the owners of businesses in the country’s growing garment sector, are weary of the bitter rivalry between the two women that has plagued politics for years.

While Ms Hasina’s Awami League has become increasingly authoritarian — Ms Zia accuses her of launching a one-party state — the BNP and its Jamaat-e-Islami allies have repeatedly resorted to violent protests and transport shutdowns in pursuit of their demands.

Toby Cadman, a human rights lawyer who advises the country’s opposition, said: “What we are seeing is a deterioration in stability in Bangladesh and the Awami League trying to consolidate power still further … The BNP is pushing for fresh, inclusive elections.”

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, citing government threats to deal with the opposition the way Maoists rebels were crushed in the 1970s, said the country appeared to be “heading toward a bloodbath” unless international and local stakeholders could break the cycle of political violence and censorship.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called for investigations into the recent killings, the release of detainees and an end to a crackdown on the media.

Source: Financial Times