Monday, January 31, 2005

BANGLADESH: General Strike - Day 3 - 31 JAN [3 News Clippings]

01. India 'deeply concerned' about Bangladesh situation: officials:
02. More clashes in Bangladesh strike
03. Bangladesh opposition calls for fresh strike

01. India 'deeply concerned' about Bangladesh situation: officials:

New Delhi, Jan 31 : Ahead of a visit this week to Dhaka by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India said Monday that it is "deeply concerned" about the situation in Bangladesh and sees a pattern in the attempts to assassinate opposition leaders.

Describing the situation in that country as "grave," a senior official told journalists: "Anyone who is concerned about democracy in Bangladesh will be concerned about what is happening there."

He was referring to Thursday's attack on a public meeting of the opposition

Awami League at Habiganj, in which a former finance minister and four other party workers were killed and nearly 100 injured.

The attack came five months after Awami League leader and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina escaped an assassination attempt when grenades were thrown at a meeting addressed by her in Dhaka.

About the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Dhaka (Feb 6-7), the official said: "As of now we are committed to go for the summit".

Manmohan Singh is expected to arrive in Dhaka Feb 5 and would have talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

The official said the situation in Bangladesh would figure in the bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit. "We will express our concern in our bilateral talks."

Asked whether his comments would not be interpreted by Dhaka as interference in its internal affairs, the official shot back: "How can you say it has nothing to do with India?"

He said that developments in that country have an "immediate impact" on India. "If there is a trend towards fundamentalism taking root there, it is naturally a matter of concern to us."



02. More clashes in Bangladesh strike

Tensions have soared after a bomb attack on an opposition rally

At least 50 people have been hurt in clashes between police and protesters on the third day of a general strike in Bangladesh, the opposition says.

The stoppage closed the stock market, and shops and schools nationwide.

The main opposition Awami League party called the strike in protest at a grenade attack last Thursday, which killed one of its leaders.

No arrests have been made. Awami League supporters blame the government for the death - a charge it denies.

The 60-hour strike began on Saturday morning and was due to end on Monday evening.

On Monday, security forces used batons to disperse opposition demonstrators at various places in the capital.

Most businesses were closed and vehicles were off the otherwise busy streets in Dhaka, a city of nearly 10 million people.

Protesters chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the immediate arrest of those who carried out the grenade attack on the opposition rally in north-eastern Habiganj district.

The blast killed former Finance Minister Shah AMS Kibria, and four other Awami League officials.

FBI help requested

Opposition leaders say the three-day strike was observed in all cities and towns across the country as a mark of protest at the killings of the opposition leaders.

Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina, who herself escaped a grenade attack last August, has blamed the government for the killings - a charge dismissed by the authorities.

The government has asked the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help find the killer.

But the US authorities say they would consider sending investigators only if measures were taken to ensure they had access to all the evidence.



03. Bangladesh opposition calls for fresh strike

DHAKA - The main Bangladesh opposition party, the Awami league, called on Monday for more strikes later this week in its anti-government campaign as the country emerged from a three-day nationwide stoppage.

The strike, backed by several smaller opposition parties, drove most transport off Dhaka's usually teeming streets, closed shops, schools and stock exchanges and disrupted activity at the country's main port in Chittagong.

Clashes between police and strikers over the three days injured more than 200 people and damaged about 40 vehicles, police and witnesses said.

"We are calling for more strikes next Thursday, Saturday and Sunday in our continuing effort to force the government to step down," Awami chief Sheikh Hasina told a news conference.

She thanked supporters for making the latest strike a success. "I hope they will make the next strike even more successful," Hasina said.

The planned strikes would partly coincide with a meeting of South Asian leaders in Dhaka on Sunday and Monday.

The summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), delayed by about a month after the Dec. 26 tsunami hit several member countries, is due to end on Feb. 7.

Foreign ministers of SAARC are to meet on Saturday. Friday is the weekend in mainly Muslim Bangladesh.

No comment was immediately available from the government on the Awami call, supported by several smaller opposition parties.

The Awami League called last week's strike -- a common form of protest in Bangladesh -- after a grenade attack at a party rally in the northeast on Thursday.

The attack, the latest in a series to rock the country over the last year, killed senior Awami leader Shah Abu Mohammad Shamsul Kibria, 73, a former finance minister, UN official and diplomat. Kibria's nephew was among four others killed.

Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia condemned the attack and vowed to bring Kibria's killers to justice. The government has formed a commission and sought help from the FBI and Interpol.

But Awami chief Sheikh Hasina, who herself narrowly escaped injury in a grenade attack at a rally in Dhaka last August, said she did not believe the government.

Kibria's family said in a statement on Sunday they did not believe an investigation with government participation would be fair.

"Unless it is a truly independent probe only by international agencies it is likely to end up in a whitewash," the family said.

Political analysts said the opposition's activities were unlikely to disrupt Khaleda's rule because her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) remains popular.