Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) attend a mass rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 18 August 2023. EFE/EPA/FILE/MONIRUL ALAM

Tension grips Bangladesh ahead of rallies by major political parties

Dhaka, Oct 27 (EFE).- Tension gripped Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Friday, a day before major political parties announced to hold rallies and counter rallies on Saturday in the runup to the forthcoming general election in January, raising fears of confrontation.

Bangladesh police stand guard as supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) attend a mass rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 18 August 2023. EFE/EPA/FILE/MONIRUL ALAM

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called for a big rally in front of its headquarters in Dhaka, demanding the resignation of the government and the transfer of power to a neutral caretaker administration to conduct the elections.

The ruling Bangladesh Awami League called for a similar rally barely one and a half kilometers (0.93 miles) away to counter the opposition.

Both parties rejected the police request to shift the venue of their rallies.

Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in the country, also announced it would hold a rally near opposition and ruling party rallies in Dhaka.

Police said they were considering allowing the ruling party and the opposition to hold rallies, but decided against allowing Jamaat to do the same.

“Hopefully the issue of permission for the two parties (BNP and Awami League) will be resolved by this evening,” Faruk Hossain, the spokesperson of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told EFE.

“But Jamaat will not be given permission. They have lost their registration as a political party due to opposing our War of Independence. Now, if they hold any rally, it will be illegal. The police will take all possible steps to thwart such attempts,” he said.

The ruling party warned the opposition that it would play fire with fire if there was any kind of violence.

“As they (BNP) said that they would take revenge and create resistance, it means that they want to create violence. The answer to violence is not silence. The answer to violence is violence,” AL general secretary Obaidul Qauder told reporters at a press conference in Dhaka on Thursday.

BNP, which always maintained that its program would be peaceful, said in a letter to the police that it was expecting 100,000 to 125,000 people to attend the rally.

The United States and the United Kingdom are among the countries to issue travel alerts for their respective citizens, asking them to avoid large gatherings ahead of the rallies of major political parties.

“Protests and demonstrations can quickly turn violent and lead to clashes with law enforcement,” the British government said in a travel advisory for its citizens.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said in a statement on Friday that the police arrested at least 1,350 party leaders and activists in the past four days, including 330 since Thursday.

Since its last major rally at the end of July, police have arrested 4,020 party leaders and activists, Alamgir said.

During the rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government between 2009 and 2023, 1,539 BNP leaders and activists were killed and 1,204 went missing, the party’s media wing said on Friday.

The Awami League and BNP have ruled Bangladesh since 1991, except for a brief quasi-military rule in 2007–08.