Vol. 5 Num 130 Sun. October 03, 2004  
Front Page

AL Grand Rally
Hasina emerges today from Aug 21 gloom with fresh agitation

In her first public appearance after the August-21 assassination attempt, Awami League President Sheikh Hasina will announce fresh anti-government programme from today's rally in the city's Paltan Maidan amid unprecedented security measures.

The main opposition party will go for a tough course of action including frequent hartals and road blockades if the 4-party coalition government thwarts its adherents from rallying today, hinted the party's policymakers. Otherwise, the party will opt for public mobilisation, programmes like human shields and processions, to step up its on-going 'oust-government' movement, they added.

The AL has already accused the government of launching blanket arrests to squash the opposition movement including today's grand rally and warned of tough programmes in retaliation.

The party and its front organisations have taken all-out preparations to make the rally a big showdown with the 36-month BNP-Jamaat-led coalition government. The party leaders expect a mammoth gathering at the rally from across the country, specially from different wards of the capital and its adjacent districts.

Against the backdrop of the August-21 grisly attacks, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has planned to set up 25 metal detectors at the entries to the meeting venue. Ten teams of plainclothesmen will be deployed inside the crowd and 10 video cameras will take footage of the events. Besides, law enforces will be at every floor and rooftop of the adjacent high-rises. A total of 8,000 law enforcers will be involved in the rally security, sources said.

Separate rallies of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal led by Hasanul Haq Inu on the road in between Zero Point and Paltan Crossing and of Workers Party in Hadis Park in Khulna coincide with the AL rally today.

On the eve of the showdown, AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil in a statement yesterday urged all secular democratic forces and members of different professional bodies and social organisations to attend today's rally at 3:00pm.

The AL Presidium sat in a meeting at 5:15pm yesterday with Sheikh Hasina in the chair. Meeting sources said the highest decision-making body of the party drafted a series of programmes and decided to adopt those after consulting with its allies.

The meeting was adjourned at 7:30pm until 11:00am today.

"The programmes are yet to be finalised and we [AL and its allies] will announce fresh programmes simultaneously tomorrow," Jalil said after the meeting.

"The programmes will be fixed after discussion with our allies in the oust-government movement," he added.

Party insiders however hinted at a hartal to be called on the occasion of the ruling coalition's third anniversary in office, October 10.

After the August-21 grenade attacks on its rally that had killed 20, the AL enforced four hartals in two weeks. It later dropped hartal from its strategy facing criticism from the business community and its left-leaning allies. But the ongoing crackdown on opposition activists in the form of mass arrests ahead of the grand rally has prompted the party to reconsider such tough programmes, sources said.

Earlier, on January 10 last, from another grand rally in Paltan Maidan Leader of the Opposition Hasina gave the government a month to fulfil her party's 15-point set of demands or step aside. The demands included an end to violence allegedly unleashed by the ruling alliance loyalists and also to corruption, nepotism and politicisation, and to disband the so-called alternative centre of power Hawa Bhaban.

Police made a sweep of the Paltan ground and the meeting podium by a dog squad yesterday afternoon. Explosive experts also inspected the area.

Contingents of police have already been deployed in and around the venue.

The podium will be encircled by a bamboo fencing along a safety chain and none will be allowed to enter the enclosed area without security clearance authorised by the AL.

Apart from law enforcers, a large number of party volunteers will also be engaged in the security.

Every one will have to go through metal detectors at different entry points to the rally ground. Ten teams of plainclothesmen will mingle with the crowd and look out for any untoward elements.

The high security measures are prompted by the widespread allegations of poor security arrangement by police for the August-21 meeting.

"We have been providing tighter security for the opposition rallies in the recent past, even better than those of the prime minister," said a top DMP official wishing anonymity.

The DMP high command held a meeting on Friday with an AL delegation to consult the security arrangement for today's rally.

Meanwhile, Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) workers yesterday repaired those parts of Paltan Maidan that were badly damaged in the recent downpours.

The AL has directed its front organisations across the country to help produce a huge gathering today and its leadership believes if the government does not create any obstacle the rally will turn into a human sea.

On September 28, senior AL leaders held a preparatory meeting at the party's Dhanmondi office with the presidents and general secretaries of its Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Manikganj, Gazipur, Narsingdi and Tangail units and asked them to ensure large participation from their areas in today's meeting.

Earlier, from September 25 to 28, all the central leaders of the main opposition party in 15 teams visited most of the districts to mobilise and persuade people to join today's rally with the slogan 'Let's move to Dhaka to oust the government'.

Members of the police and intelligence agencies run a safety check yesterday on the muddy ground of Paltan Maidan, the venue for today's grand rally of the Awami League against a grim background of August 21 grenade attack. PHOTO: Amran Hossain