Militants backing an opposition alliance led by Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) have been trying to impose a nationwide strike and transport blockade in protest against the government of Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League.
The rivalry between the two women and their supporters has bedevilled Bangladeshi politics for years and the resulting violence poses a constant challenge to investors seeking to develop the country’s fast-growing clothing exports business.
The death toll over the past month has climbed to more than 50 following Tuesday’s attack, amid BNP protests over the controversial election that returned Sheikh Hasina to power a year ago and a wave of about 7,000 arrests targeting the government’s opponents.
Ms Zia has been holed up in her office and sometimes blockaded there by the security forces since January 3, when she was prevented from leading a protest rally, while senior members of her BNP have either been detained or gone into hiding.
At the weekend, electricity, telephone and internet connections to Ms Zia’s office were cut and two senior party members were arrested as they left the building in the upmarket Gulshan area of the capital. One of them was television station owner and opposition adviser Mosaddek Ali Falu.
Government officials have suggested that Ms Zia will be held accountable for recent deaths and that formal charges of murder will be brought against her, while the opposition alliance is said to be taking instructions from her son, Tarique Rahman. He remains in exile in London, having fled corruption charges in 2008.
Hasanul Haque Inu, information minister, called the attack on the bus in Comilla “a barbaric attack on innocent people as they slept on a bus” and said the opposition were “waging war against the people, not the government”. He said the government was “prepared for dialogue with any party on political demands” but not when they were engaged in a “heinous campaign of violence”.
Mr Inu denied that Ms Zia was in detention but said she was being investigated by police in connection with recent violence. He also confirmed that 7,000 people had been detained and said some of those held had been paid to carry out acts of arson.
Opposition leaders and human rights campaigners accuse the government of subverting democracy and seeking to crush political opponents.
Odhikar, a Bangladesh rights group, said the government was “suppressing all opposition by resorting to human rights violations such as extrajudicial deaths, disappearances, torture and degrading treatment and large-scale arrests”, while opposition protests had turned violent amid ceaseless strikes and demonstrations.
“In all this it is the ordinary people who have become victims of the political stalemate and are suffering as travelling has become unsafe, all kinds of trade and business is hampered, the poor and daily labourers are unemployed and farmers are suffering great loss,” Odkhikar said in its latest monthly report.
No opposition spokesperson was available for comment.
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