One dead as Bangladesh opposition rallies to demand PM’s removal

Tens of thousands of people march in capital Dhaka and other cities asking PM Sheikh Hasina to quit before election expected in January.

At least one opposition activist has died and hundreds of others were injured in clashes across Bangladesh as tens of thousands demanded Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s removal ahead of elections expected in January.

The opposition protesters on Tuesday defied the scorching sun to march in capital Dhaka and other cities, calling for Hasina’s resignation.

Hasina’s Awami League has ruled the world’s eighth most populous country since 2009 and has been accused of human rights abuses and corruption.

Bangladesh opposition march
People take part in march to demand Hasina’s resignation in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and dozens of smaller allies have called for protests throughout the country to demand Hasina step down and the polls take place under a neutral caretaker government.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the BNP, called upon the government to immediately step down, dissolve parliament and hand power to an interim administration to help restore democracy in the South Asian country.

In Dhaka, people from different parts of the city joined the march that stretched for nearly 13km (eight miles), bringing traffic at different points to a standstill for hours on a busy weekday.

“Many of these people participating in the march did not necessarily belong to political parties. They came from different walks of life, from cab drivers to truck drivers to rickshaw pullers who said they were upset with the government because of the economic crisis,” said Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka.

The BNP said its marches came under attack in Dhaka and at least 16 other places on Tuesday.

“Sajib Hossain, one of our activists, was hacked and shot dead by members of student wing of the ruling party” in Laxmipur, BNP spokesman Zahir Uddin Swapan told the AFP news agency.

He accused police of opening fire with shotguns at hundreds of BNP supporters in the southern coastal district, leaving at least 200 people injured.

Bangladesh opposition march
Bangladesh police walk past a motorbike set on fire during the march in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Joynal Abedin, a doctor at the state-run Laxmipur Sadar Hospital, confirmed one person was killed and at least 50 others were injured.

“We have to conduct post-mortem to know what caused the death,” he said.

A police inspector said they were not sure the death was a result of clashes between the opposition and the ruling party.

National police spokesman Monzur Rahman refused to comment on the nationwide violence.

Yasasmin Kaviratne, regional campaigner for South Asia at Amnesty International, expressed alarm at “the escalating tensions, use of force to police widespread protests and increasing crackdown on any dissenting voices in the run up to elections in Bangladesh”.

Amnesty called for a prompt and impartial investigation into the death of the activist to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

“People should be free to protest and dissent. By muffling their voices, the government is signalling that having different political views is not tolerated within the country,” Kaviratne said.

Bangladesh opposition march
BNP supporters gather for a protest rally in Dhaka last week [File: Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP]

Western governments have expressed concern over the political climate in Bangladesh, where Hasina’s party dominates the legislature.

Her security forces are accused of detaining tens of thousands of opposition activists, killing hundreds in extrajudicial encounters and disappearing hundreds of leaders and supporters.

The elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) security force and seven of its senior officers were sanctioned by Washington in 2021 in response to those alleged rights abuses.

Bangladesh opposition march
BNP said its marches came under attack in Dhaka and 16 other places [File: Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP]

The United States has called for a free and fair election and two senior State Department representatives met with local officials in Dhaka last week.

The BNP and its allies accuse Hasina’s party of rigging the two most recent elections in 2018 and 2014.

To counter the protests, the ruling party also planned a “peace and development” procession in Dhaka on Tuesday. At least 10 people were injured after BNP and Awami League supporters clashed in the southeastern district of Khagrachhari.

Last week, about 50,000 people attended a rally in Dhaka, which dispersed without incident. The BNP and other opposition groups have planned more rallies on Wednesday.

The next general election is due before the current parliament’s term expires in late January.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies