DHAKA, Dec 29 — Bangladesh police fired water cannon and shotguns at opposition protesters in the capital Sunday, killing one person, at the start of a banned mass march aimed at thwarting next month’s general election.
Hundreds of demonstrators, some throwing home-made bombs, battled police as they tried to gather at the opposition’s headquarters and other places throughout Dhaka for the so-called “March for Democracy”.
Some 11,000 police and elite Rapid Action Battalion officers were patrolling the capital to try to halt the march, Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP.
The BNP, led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, has urged people from all walks of life to join the ‘March for Democracy’ program towards the capital to put pressure on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to scrap the elections.
The Bangladesh Election Commission announced Dec 20 that the deployment of troops for 15 days from Dec 26 was part of beefed up security measures.
However, the European Union and the US have announced that they would not send poll observers to the country.
Amid fear of violence, traffic on Dhaka streets Sunday remained relatively thin as most private vehicles kept indoors.
All modes of transport bound for the capital stopped plying Saturday in an apparent move to keep opposition activists from carrying out their march.
Transporters said they were asked by the ruling party to halt operations for two days to thwart the long march.
Dhaka Police did not give permission to BNP for the march.
Police put up barricades on both sides of the road leading to Khaleda’s house since Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, security was further beefed up in and around her house in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave Gulshan.
Hasina’s ruling Awami Leagu party has vowed to resist the programme and asked its activists to guard all entry points to Dhaka.
Law enforcers, including paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and ruling party supporters, have been searching Dhaka-bound people in all the eight major entry points of Dhaka.
BNP and its 17 allies have asked Hasina to bring back a non-party caretaker system, or else the opposition won’t participate in the next election because it fears an election without the non-party caretaker government will not be free and fair.–Agencies