Hasina cancels poll campaign following death threat (Lead)December 22nd, 2008 - 10:26 pm ICT by IANS
Dhaka, Dec 22 (IANS) Reports of a plot to kill former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have forced her to stay away from her campaign for next Monday’s ninth general election. She stayed out from conducting any campaigning when the parliamentary election is at the doorsteps, the Star Online website said Monday.
“Sheikh Hasina has no schedule for election campaign today, amidst the threat of assassination from an Islamist militant organisation,” the Daily Star newspaper said quoting unnamed sources at Sudha Sadan, Hasina’s residence here.
There was no official word from the Awami League that Hasina heads to explain why she took a break from her gruelling poll schedule begun Dec 12, giving all parties shorter campaign time than normal.
She took time off from the campaign to visit her ailing husband, Wazed Miah, a retired nuclear physicist.
Earlier reports had quoted Hasina, who ruled Bangladesh between 1996 and 2001, as saying that she was not scared of any assassination threats.
She was reacting to reports quoting intelligence sources at home and in neighbouring India that Islamist terrorists were planning to kill her and that a plot had been hatched by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Media reports quoted Hasina telling a rally Sunday: “You have already read in newspapers about the apprehension of attacks on me. I am the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and I am not scared of any threats.”
Hasina and her sisters were the only ones to survive the mass murder of her family, including their father and then president Mujibur Rahman, in a military-backed coup in August 1975.
Security and intelligence agencies last month warned Hasina of possible attempts on her life by extremist groups including the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the Daily Star newspaper said.
It said that the Special Security Force (SSF) had assumed responsibility for her security.
An Indian TV channel recently reported that Indian intelligence agencies had warned Bangladesh that a six-member suicide squad of the banned HuJI had been trained to assassinate Hasina, Bangladeshi media said.
It added that an ISI officer had trained the HuJI men for two months at Kaliganj in Bangladesh’s Satkhira district.
Hasina said her life was under threat “since a certain quarter is afraid of the mass surge in favour of ‘boat’, her party’s election symbol, ahead of the parliamentary election”, The Daily Star reported Monday.
She blamed her political rivals, who are also in the poll fray.
“Terrorists attacked me time and again and the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party)-Jamaat alliance government patronised the attackers,” Hasina said while addressing a poll rally at Tangail.
Home Adviser (Minister) Maj Gen (retd.) M.A. Matin Sunday assured that the interim government had taken “the highest possible measures” to ensure Hasina’s safety.
“Inshallah, there will be no attack,” he told reporters, adding that the government was well prepared to tackle any situation during the elections.
Hasan Mahmud Khandaker, director general of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), said they were investigating the threat reported by the Indian television channel, which quoted unnamed Indian intelligence officials.
There have been at least three attempts on the life of Hasina in the last decade.
The editorial reactions of Bangladeshi media to the reported assassination threat were mixed, but all emphasised on providing foolproof security for Hasina.
The Bangladesh Today, an English language daily, felt the report was “far-fetched”, but in an editorial said the army might use it “to declare martial law”.
“What is expected of the security forces at this hour is the highest degree of professionalism to nip violence in the bud for the success of the election and sustenance of the democratic process,” said the New Nation newspaper.
The Daily Star pointed out in its editorial Monday that Hasina had “barely escaped” death at a rally Aug 21, 2004, when 22 of her senior party colleagues were killed.
“It is, however, good news that the Special Security Force (SSF) has taken due cognizance of the threat and put in place foolproof security arrangements for Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia and other top leaders,” the newspaper added.