Vol. 5 Num 672 Thu. April 20, 2006  
Front Page

Sealed city turns into battlefield
Over 100 including Saber, Nur hurt in police action; BNP MP Monno's house attacked

The capital came to a standstill yesterday noon as the police waged a multipronged war on the Awami League-led 14-party opposition combine over its sit-in programme in front of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

By imposing section 144, a near curfew, on a 20-sq-km area around the PMO, making all its roads--the major thoroughfares--off-limits to vehicles, and barricading the entry points, the police fortified the target of the sit-in in a way seen only in wartime or security emergency.

Trying to break through the barriers and advance towards the sit-in venue, opposition activists locked horns with some 15,000 law enforcers including police, Rapid Action Battallion (Rab) and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in a number of areas including Dhanmondi, Bangla Motors, Mirpur, Jigatala, and Farmgate.

At least 100 people including some law enforcers were injured in the pitched battles spanning several hours, when police lobbed teargas shells, fired rubber bullets and charged baton on opposition pickets, who counter-charged by hurling brickbats.

AL President Sheikh Hasina's Political Secretary Saber Hossain Chowdhury and lawmaker Asaduzzaman Noor were among the opposition leaders wounded in the skirmishes.

The demonstrators turned into angry mobs and damaged a city corporation truck, a donor agency jeep, a Channel S microbus, and two cars of a BNP lawmaker, besides setting fire to two rickshaws. The opposition men also broke the windowpanes of a number of shops in Dhanmondi and some buildings at Bangla Motors, besides ransacking the BNP lawmaker's Dhanmondi house.

Opposition leaders alleged the police following commands of government top shots attacked their peaceful programme without any provocation. The police, on the other hand, said they went on action only when opposition workers broke the barricades violating the ban and pelted them with brickbats.

The 14-party opposition line-up announced to stage the two-hour sit-in from 11:00am to press home its demands for reforms of the caretaker government system, the Election Commission and electoral laws, and to protest the Kansat killings, power crisis and price spiral of essential commodities.

The opposition camp will also observe a dawn-to-dusk countrywide hartal today to protest the deaths of at least 17 villagers in police atrocities at Kansat in Chapainawabganj.

On the eve of the opposition programme, the police on Tuesday night went on a blanket-arrest drive. The lockups in the city police stations were reportedly sardine-packed with opposition activists and apolitical arrestees yesterday, sources said.

On Monday, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) termed the opposition programme a "security threat" to the PMO and announced the imposition of section 144, which bans every kind of gathering, in a vast area around the PMO for 24 hours from Tuesday midnight.

The roads the police sealed off from early morning yesterday include Shahbag Roundabout-Farmgate-Mohakhali Flyover, Moghbazar-Bangla Motors-Hatirpool, Shyamoli-Asad Gate-Panthapath, Dhanmondi Road 27 and Russell Square, and Rokeya Sarani-Bijoy Sarani.

Bangla Motors crossroads and the surrounding area including Eskaton Road, Maymensingh Link Road, Paribagh and Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue turned into a battlefield as an AL procession tried to breach a police barricade at about 11:50am.

AL Presidium Member Motia Chowdhury led the break-through attack on the barricade. In retaliation, riot police fired teargas shells and rubber bullets at the opposition men. Police and pickets also pelted each other with brickbats, and chased and counter-chased for about an hour.

The demonstrators burnt some 15 to 20 tyres and two rickshaws in this area reportedly to minimise the affects of teargas. They also set fire to a microbus of Channel S, a private satellite TV channel.

The clash left Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Asaduzzaman Nur injured, among others.

Police arrested about 20 opposition men in this area.

AL leader HBM Iqbal alleged some ruling BNP cadres threw at least 10 crude bombs on them near Eskaton Road.

Police exercised maximum tolerance, DMP Deputy Commissioner (South) Mazharul Hoque told The Daily Star after the skirmishing. "We dispersed the opposition workers only when they broke the police barricade and hurled brickbats on us, violating the ban," he added.

On the other hand, Saber claimed, "Police baton-charged us indiscriminately, and lobbed teargas shells and fired gunshots on our leaders and workers, when we were trying to make them understand that this is a peaceful sit-in programme."

Opposition members and supporters led by 14-pary leaders started to gather near Russell Square, at Sobhanbagh and in Dhanmondi Road 27 in small processions since 10:00am.

They held a rally near Rapa Plaza in Mirpur Road.

The clashes started after police had lobbed teargas shells at the rally and dispersed the crowd at around 12:20pm.

The opposition demonstrators counter-attacked by throwing brickbats at police from the lanes and by-lanes in the area from Russell Square to Dhanmondi Road 27.

They damaged a truck of Dhaka City Corporation and a jeep of a donor agency, as well as broke windowpanes of nearby markets.

Police lobbed more than 100 teargas shells to disperse the demonstrators during the hour-long scuffle. There was no report of any serious injury.

Before the clash, the demonstrators gave chase to the flag-carrying car of Chief Whip Khandoker Delwar Hossain, who was passing through the area.

During the clash in Dhanmondi, a group of angry opposition men broke into the house of BNP lawmaker Harun Ur Rashid Khan Monno, a former minister without portfolio, in Dhanmondi Road 27.

They broke the doors of his office and drawing room, and the windshields of two cars, creating panic among the inmates. At that point, three police constables guarding the house fired four shots from inside the house and drove the mob away from the house. No body was injured.

Police put up barricades on Mohakhali fly-over, at Mohakhali-Gulshan crossroads, Nabisco crossroads. They also had diverted many buses at Kuril crossroads on Airport Road to Badda since early morning, forcing thousands of people to walk to reach their destinations.

About a thousand activists of the 14-party alliance held a peaceful rally at the eastern side of Mohakhali rail crossing. Opposition leaders Tofail Ahmed, Kazi Zafrullah MP, Rashed Khan Menon, Hasanul Haq Inu, Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, Advocate Sahara Khatun, and AKM Rahmat Ullah addressed the meeting.

After the end of the rally at about 12:45pm, a few opposition men threw brickbats at police, who drove them away by charging baton.

The law enforcers did not remove the barricade on the fly-over until 2:30pm.

During scheduled time of the sit-in programme, the road in front of the PMO was literally deserted.

Except a pair of policemen, no other law enforcer was seen deployed there, although thousands were guarding the barricades set far away from the PMO.

Opposition activists throw stones at police at Bangla Motor intersection in the capital yesterday as police intercept their procession marching towards the Prime Minister's Office for a sit-in programme. PHOTO: STAR