Troops take to streets |
The army joined ranks with other law enforcement agencies in securing the presidential residence, Bangabhaban, as the armed forces moved out of garrisons and took positions at key locations across the country early morning yesterday.
Troops in combat gear fanned out following a presidential order on Saturday that earned mostly negative reactions from a broad cross-section of citizens.
The troops were seen patrolling the main thoroughfares of the capital while being stationed in different community centres in the capital.
The forces did not begin their operation on a large scale yesterday but are likely to do so from today, according to sources.
Deployment of troops in all district headquarters was completed yesterday, the home ministry said, hoping that the deployment will secure economic activities, a sense of peace, and a congenial atmosphere for the upcoming election.
The navy and air force were deployed in coastal zones and airports.
"Naval forces have been deployed in the coastal belt of Chittagong, Khulna, Noakhali and Bagerhat while the air force was deployed at Zia International Airport, Shah Amanat Airport, and Jessore Airport," Col M Anisur Rahman Chowdhury, director of Inter Services Public Relations, told The Daily Star yesterday.
According to sources, about 70 battalions of the army comprising 400 to 1000 troops each were deployed in 64 districts. How long they will stay deployed to maintain domestic peace, however, could not be learnt.
Ignoring unanimous and vehement opposition by all the 10 advisers to the interim government, President Iajuddin Ahmed, also the chief adviser to the caretaker government (CG), unilaterally decided on Saturday night to deploy the armed forces in aid of the civil administration, following a threat of an indefinite sit-in around Bangabhaban by Awami League-led 14-party coalition.
Although some of the advisers pointed out that there was no necessity of deploying the troops in a rather favourable atmosphere which had been seemingly heading towards an amicable settlement of the ongoing electoral crisis, the president however did not pay any heed to their logic or opposition.
Just as the army was being deployed in the capital, police also banned gatherings and processions around Bangabhaban although 14-party coalition did not actually officially announce any programme around Bangabhaban for today or for the coming days.
Since the president had assumed the office of chief adviser to the CG on October 28, he decided to deploy the armed forces on two occasions but retracted in the face of stiff resistance from the advisers.
The home ministry said in its news release yesterday, "Members of the armed forces will work on demand of the civil administration to protect public life and property, to keep economic activity running, to recover illegal firearms, and to curb criminal activities."
Meantime, as the news swept through the country fast on Saturday night, the most asked question was, "When will they be seen on the streets?"
The troops were seen moving out of their barracks in the capital around 2:30am yesterday. They stationed at 23 locations in the city setting up camps in community centres of Dhaka City Corporation.
They also set up a camp in Mirpur Indoor Stadium.
According to sources, several units of the army will work in Dhaka under the command of a lieutenant colonel. A lieutenant colonel will also lead the forces at district level.
They have not been learnt to have conducted any major operation in Dhaka till 8:00 last night although they searched several vehicles on Dhaka-Aricha highway and some houses in the Bank Colony in Savar early morning yesterday.
The commanding officers have also begun establishing contacts with DCs (deputy commissioners) and OCs (officers-in-charge) of police in metropolitan areas and police superintendents and OCs in district towns, Assistant Inspector General of Police Matiur Rahman Shaikh told The Daily Star.
At least seven armoured personnel carriers (APC) rumbled in to join the security detail of Bangabhaban.
Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed yesterday called on the president at Bangabhaban and assured him that the army will discharge the responsibilities vested in it with sincerity.
A Bangabhaban spokesman quoted the president as saying that the deployment of the armed forces in aid of the civil administration was necessary to sustain economic activities in the country and to maintain law and order ahead of the upcoming election, reports BSS.
People from different walks of life said deployment of the armed forces was not necessary as law and order was not beyond control.
Apart from the advisers to the interim government, political parties, rights and socio-cultural organisations, professionals, transport workers, small traders and even some police officials also opposed the decision, expressing apprehension that it might complicate the situation further.
"We passed much more critical situations immediately after the caretaker government had taken over. If the law enforcing agencies had been enough to control the situation then, was it necessary to deploy the army when the situation is better now?" a businessman of Dhanmondi said, seeking anonymity.
Talking to this correspondent at Farmgate, a traffic sergeant said the deployment was an insult to the police and other law enforcing agencies. "Does the government have any credible explanation for deploying the army when the situation is under control?
Isn't it a slap on the face of the law enforcing agencies who have been working hard especially since the caretaker government had taken over?"
However, one of his colleagues joked: "It'll reduce our load!"
Several university students reacted quite angrily, some of them noted that the president's decision reflects clearly that he acted not on rationale but according to some people's or groups' diktat.
"What's the point of calling out the army now when political parties have postponed their agitation programmes and are preparing for the election?" said a BBA student of Independent University.
Sirajul Islam, a street vendor at Gulistan, and Sukhendu Barmon, a fruit vendor at Azampur in Uttara, however, said low-income people like them will benefit from the deployment as political parties will not be able now to enforce agitation programmes that usually harm their income. "But we don't think it was necessary," Sukhendu echoed Sirajul.
Shafiqul Alam, a businessman at Motijheel, noted that the deployment is nothing but a trick to create a panic. "Is this such a grave situation that army deployment seemed necessary?"
Former chief engineer of Power Development Board, Wajed Miah, said, "Earlier the army used to be called out in public interest. But I am concerned whether they will do any good this time."
Dalia Quadir, a small entrepreneur, thinks the move will intensify the crisis rather than resolving it.
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