Over 10,000 arrested in Bangladesh as political dialogue stalled

June 3rd, 2008 - 3:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, June 3 (IANS) Over 10,000 people have been arrested in Bangladesh over the past three days as the military-backed government tries to keep up a political dialogue that is being boycotted by three mainstream parties whose leaders are in jail on graft charges. As political leaders and human rights bodies protested the arrests, Home Affairs Adviser M.A. Matin Monday defended the ongoing drive as an operation to check deterioration of law and order ahead of the general elections.

The elections, called off in January last year, are due only in December. But the arrest of political workers provoked jailed former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina to demand the advancing of dates to October or November.

The interim government of Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed did not deny the link between the arrests and the election, but insisted that no one was being detained “for political reasons”.

Matin said the army-led joint forces have been asked to launch an operation against the “miscreants” who have become active in recent days with the general elections coming nearer.

“I can assure you that arrests have been made in good faith to maintain law and order. No one has been apprehended on political considerations,” Matin was quoted as saying in New Age newspaper Tuesday.

Most of the workers are from Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hasina-led Awami League and their front organizations.

The two parties want their leaders released from jail. Joining in the protest is the latest entrant, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, whose Amir (chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami was arrested in a graft case last month.

In a setback to Nizami, however, the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ), the Islamist front that Nizami leads, decided to join the dialogue with the government.

Meanwhile, by-passing the protesting politicians, the government clearly said it would continue the dialogue with the parties who are ready to talk.

Keen on holding civic elections and to the rural areas prior to the parliamentary poll, it plans to invite more people from the grassroots level to its “civic dialogue”, side by side with the ongoing talks with political parties.

Matin said this was “to bring about qualitative changes in politics and governance”.

“We have planned to hold regional talks to obtain opinions from the cross-section of the people,” said Commerce and Education Adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman, one of the prime figures in the government-sponsored dialogues.

However, Hasina, who spoke through her lawyer from jail, and BNP secretary general Khandaker Delawar Hossain said the government’s gambit is bound to fail, if past experience was any indicator.

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