On Saturday, tens of thousands of supporters of Bangladesh’s largest opposition party came to Dhaka to protest Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government and call for fresh elections.
The audience at the Golapbagh sports area, where the event was taking place, erupted into the streets, chanting, “Sheikh Hasina is a vote thief.”
Tension was high in the capital when security forces raided the offices of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on Tuesday, leaving at least one person dead and others wounded.
Two of the party’s top officials were added to the 2,000 or so members and sympathizers who the party said had been held since November 30 in an effort to thwart the march. They were all arrested on Friday on suspicion of instigating the violence.
The political environment in Bangladesh, one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, has drawn the attention of Western nations and the UN.
Long associated with the US, Bangladesh has recently pursued closer relations with China, with Beijing funding some of Prime Minister Hasina’s multi-billion-dollar development initiatives.
Hasina has categorically rejected the opposition’s demands for her resignation and the calling of elections under a caretaker administration, which have been the subject of nationwide rallies. By mid-morning on Saturday, according to a BNP spokesman, 200,000 people had registered to attend the demonstration.
In order to organize a free and fair election, “our major demand is that Sheikh Hasina quit and that parliament be dissolved,” said spokesperson Zahiruddin Swapan to AFP. Faruq Ahmed, a spokesman for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, disputed the statistics, claiming that the location could not accommodate more than 30,000 people.
Although there had not yet been any violence, he noted that SWAT teams, counterterrorism units, and canine squads were on alert. On entry points to the city, police erected checkpoints, and the huge metropolis of some 20 million people was well guarded.
The typically clogged roadways of Dhaka saw only a few cycle rickshaws and automobiles, and BNP officials accused the government of instigating an unofficial transit strike in an effort to keep people from attending the demonstration.
According to local media accounts, BNP campaigners were assaulted by members of the ruling party on Friday.