Bangladesh: Opposition calls 36-hour strike from June 12
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Bangladesh: Opposition calls 36-hour strike from June 12

A week after their general strike that brought Bangladesh to a standstill on June 5, the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami declared a 36-hour long strike from June 12. Bangladesh Jatiya Party (BJP) and Islami Oikya Jote (Aminee), the two other allies of the Four-party alliance, have also declared to observe the strike.

The reason behind this strike is the same as the last one: Protesting the recommendations of the parliamentary special committee on constitutional amendment and demanding a continuation of the caretaker government system.

The BNP-led government made the 13th amendment to the constitution in 1996, when the then-opposition and the current ruling party, Awami League, demanded a non-party interim government until the general election was held. After the amendment in 1996, three elections have already been held in the country.

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Flames rise from a bus set on fire by protesters in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Saturday, June 4, 2011. Pic: AP.

However, last month, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina scrapped the caretaker government provision after the Supreme Court of Bangladesh declared the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh, which introduced a system of non-party interim government until the holding of a national parliamentary election, “void and illegal” on May 10.

Leaving the parliament to decide the state governance, the court stated that the next two general elections may be held under the non-party caretaker arrangement, for the country’s stable transition. The parliamentary special committee on constitution amendment proposed to the prime minister two alternative systems of caretaker government during future general elections. But the prime minister decided to abolish the caretaker system entirely complying with the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Hasina had always blamed the caretaker government system behind the January 11, 2007 changeover which eventually led to an unconstitutional government, backed by the military, which ran the country for two years till the 2008 ninth parliamentary elections.

However, BNP is now expressing distrust on the government fearing that the government is conspiring to create another one-party ruling system formed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in June 1975 through Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL). The distrust led them to call the strike on June 5 and the latest strike on June 12 which is going to be the longest in duration since the Awami League-led grand alliance came to power.

Along with the main agenda of reinstating the caretaker government system, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami also demanded the release of leaders now in jail on different charges including crimes against humanity during the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh.

Although the NP Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Jamaat Acting Secretary General ATM Azharul Islam announced the programme from separate press conferences at respective party offices, they both also demanded “the committee’s suggestion for dropping ‘absolute trust and faith upon almighty Allah’ as one of the fundamental principles of the constitution and the government’s efforts to break off relations with the Muslim world and failure to check price hike of essentials,” as reported by the Daily Star.

“I know people will suffer from hartal (general strike). But the hartal has been called to protect their right to vote. So, I urge all to make it successful,” said Alamgir to newsmen after announcing the programme.

Immediately after the special body submitted the recommendations, including the scrapping of a non-party CG system before the House on Wednesday, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia held an emergency meeting with the party policymakers and decided to go for a tougher movement. They also decided to boycott its dialogue with the Election Commission scheduled for Monday.

Khaleda, also the opposition leader in parliament, has already declared from participating in the next parliamentary polls unless held under a Caretaker Government.

Prior to the June 5 strike, a day earlier on June 4, around 10 buses were set ablaze by picketers in different parts of Dhaka. As police barred the demonstration and rallies of strike-supporters at Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna and other parts of Bangladesh, scuffles broke out between opposition party-members and the police leaving over 100 activists, police, newsmen and others injured.

The BNP claimed that 400 people were injured in clashes and the police had arrested 600 people between June 4 and 5.

“The government has snatched our democratic rights. They didn’t allow us to stand anywhere during the shutdown… The entire nation has turned into a police state,” Bdnews24.com quoted BNP acting secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, as saying at a post-hartal press briefing on June 5.

Claiming that the June 5 strike was successful, Fakhrul added, “People through the hartal have proved that they are in favour of the caretaker government system,” before declaring fresh programmes including a protest rally on June 6 and a similar demonstration on June 7.

Also on June 5, while inaugurating International Environment Day programmes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina termed the opposition hartal “illogical”. She said the “issue, over which the opposition called the general strike, is not justifiable. They don’t care for the court order. I urge them to place their proposals, if any, in parliament”.