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<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 135 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 26 , 2003

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The Year of Living on the Edge


Bangladesh became champion in the 3rd SAF championship by 5-3 tiebreak against Maldives.
As central defender Sujon converted the 5th penalty into the 5th goal. The jam-packed Bangabandhu National Stadium roared in deafening approval. After the regular 20-minute ended in a 1-1 draw the match extended into a tiebreaker.


The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on February 1 at 1400 GMT, just 16 minutes before it was due to land. A total of 7 astronauts including the first Israeli in space named Ilan Ramon, were aboard. Television images showed several white trails in the blue sky. The shuttle was flying at 200,000 feet at the time, moving at 20,000 kms per hour when it broke up. The space shuttle Columbia that was commissioned in 1988, met its end on its 28th mission.

Nine policemen were arrested from Bangabazar Hawkers Market on the charge of extortion on 6 February. The gang used to extort money from businessmen at different city markets by threatening them on dubious pretexts. Earlier on Jan 29, the nine, wearing clothes resembling army uniforms, had picked up Suresh Sarkar from Bangabazar, accusing him of being involved in hundi business and extracted Tk 3 lakh from him.


Around 100 people perished in the Tetulia river around 75 km off Barisal, on March 15 when a launch, ML Cyprus, which was going from Bogra to Barisal, got caught in a nor'wester and drowned. Rescuers put their heads on the upturned launch in a desperate attempt to hear the voices of possible survivors.



10 earthshaking explosions were heard from the direction of the airport of Baghdad. The Iraqi Information Ministry accused the US forces of killing 14 people with cluster bombs. US planes pounded targets around Baghdad with 40 "smart bombs".

A-maizing Record
Maize yield in Bangladesh hit an Asian high with per hectare output surging up to 5.75 metric tons (MT) over the last two years. Hybrid maize seeds as opposed to traditional composite seeds resulted in Bangladesh rising from one of the lowest producers of maize in Asia to the highest, topping China's 5 MT per hectare highest yield record, followed by India, Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar's yields of around 3 MT per hectare.


Around 130 people died when a launch MV Mitali-3 capsized after being caught in a storm in the Buriganga on April 21. The launch was heading for Barisal from Sadarghat with more than 400 passengers aboard.

A father was killed by his own son on April 25 of this year. 74-year-old Abul Khayer Musa, former adviser to the caretaker government of 1991, was in his room watching television with his wife when his 45-year-old son, a drug addict, demanded money from him. Imran Islam Musa, Khayer's only son, was said to be mentally unstable as well as a drug addict. His family had been trying to cure him of the addiction and prevented him from taking drugs. Imran often pressurised family members to give him money to buy drugs. When Khayer refused to give him the money that night, Imran stabbed him in the abdomen. Doctors at DMCH later declared him dead. Khayer's wife, Rokeya Begum, was also injured when she tried to save her husband.

Some unidentified miscreants took away 3 firearms and 60 rounds of ammunition from 3 cops in Uttara sector-8 on 26 April. The cops allegedly drank soft drinks that were offered by the goons.

Around 40 Iraqi civilians were killed and many badly hurt in a series of explosions near Baghdad when an arms dump blew up on the outskirts of the capital.


Refugees get voting rights
Of four lakh refugees spread over the country in 66 camps, 20,000 live in the Geneva Camp in Dhaka. Many of them born after the Liberation War of Bangladesh consider themselves to be Bangladeshis and are fighting for their rights as Bangladeshi citizens. On May 5, 10 residents of the Geneva Camp were given voting rights after the High Court declared them citizens of Bangladesh. Earlier, on October 14, 2001, the HC had issued a rule on the Election Commission asking it to explain why these 10 persons should not be considered as Bangladeshi citizens and enlisted as voters.
It was the first time that refugees were awarded Bangladeshi citizenship after a legal battle. "We have always considered ourselves Bangladeshi citizens," said 24-year-old Mohammad Hasan, one of the 10 petitioners. "Now that I am eligible to be a voter, I will fight to establish all my rights as a citizen. The High Court order is applicable not only to me but also to all the 4 lakh refugees in the country," he added. (The Daily Star, May 6)


Sixteen people were sentenced to death, three to life term and one to seven years in prison in the Sutrapur double murder case on May 14 of this year. On September 15, 2000, a gang allegedly led by Rahid Hasan Sumon kidnapped Mohammad Mohsin, 18, and Mohammad Saem, 19, and tortured them for a ransom of Tk. 50,000. Later they were killed and their bodies cut up into 12 pieces and dumped in a culvert under construction near Murgitola. Brothers Rahid Hasan Sumon and Sajid Hasan Sujon, sons of Nasibun Ahmed, president of the city Mahila Awami League, were among those sentenced to death by the Speedy Trial Tribunal --1.


70-year-old Sultana Panni, wife of former deputy speaker Humayun Khan Panni, was strangled in her own house in Dhanmondi. She was found with her hands and legs tied and her mouth gagged, face down on the floor of her bedroom balcony. Later it was alleged that the Pannis' cook hired two men to rob the house and kill its mistress and that the caretaker of the house was also involved. The accused robbed Tk. 82,000, ornaments and Panni's mobile phone, which investigators later found.


And then there were 53
The country's council of 60 ministers was trimmed down to 53 on May 22 when 7 cabinet ministers were dropped and the portfolios of 11 others were changed after a major reshuffle. The three ministers dropped were Water Resources Minister Engineer LK Siddiqi, Fisheries and Livestock Minister Sadeque Hossain Khoka and Minister without portfolio Harunar Rashid Khan Monno. The four state ministers shed were State Minister for Commerce Barkatullah Bulu, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Ebadur Rahman Chowdhury, State Minister for Post and Telecommunications Ahsanul Haque Mollah and State Minister for Liberation War Affairs Redwan Ahmed. Among those whose portfolios were changed were former Minister for Agriculture Matiur Rahman Nizami and for Minister for Health Amanullah Aman, both of whom were known to be unhappy about the changes to what they thought were less important ministries -- Nizami to industries and Aman to labour and manpower. Though some were happy with the changes, many felt "politically buried" by the reshuffle. BNP insiders claimed that the changes were made due to inefficiency and poor performance by the cabinet members.


A gang of criminals, who had recently been acquitted in an acid-throwing case, committed the same crime again, causing severe burns to a 32-year-old woman named Anowara Begum in Chittagong.
Last year, a gang of 10 criminals, allegedly led by one Moqbul, threw acid on 12-year-old Baby Akhtar who later succumbed to her injuries on October 7. Baby was the daughter of Humayun Kabir, one of Anowara Begum's neighbours. Police hinted that the enmity might have been the result of a land dispute between Kabir and Moqbul.
Moqbul and his gang were acquitted of the charges, on March 30 of this year. On May 23, Moqbul led a gang of five tied up Anowara Begum’s hands and threw acid on her, that left her shoulders, chest, throat and hand critically burned.


Three men were sentenced to death and five to life imprisonment for the killing of Sabequn Nahar Sony. Sony, a second year chemical engineering student of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), was killed in crossfire between two factions of the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, the student front of the ruling BNP, on June 8, 2002. The Speedy Trial Tribunal -- 1, handed down the verdict just over a year after the tragedy.


Police and the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) seized 26,500 bullets and 48 kilograms of explosives in joint raids on four Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders' house in Bogra on July 1. The joint forces launched the search in and around a brick kiln and recovered 2,500 bullets from a ditch in front of the house of Jatyabadi Chatra Dal leader Ratan at Sardarpara. Seven thousand bullets were recovered from another ditch at Jogarpara. Later that day, 9000 bullets in 13 olive green packets and 24 kg explosives in four packets were recovered from a septic tank of the house of a local BNP leader Abdul Jabbar. In another search the police recovered 6,500 bullets and six kg of explosives from another BNP leader Joynal Abedin's house. Next day, on July 2, more ammo was recovered in the district. In total the ammunition count rose to 93,192 bullets and 180 kgs of explosives.
The intelligence agencies have not been able to discover the source of the ammunition. One of the theories suggests that the arms were initially brought for different groups who are fighting the Indian occupation in Tripura.


The Killer Bumper
An industrialist's car (Dhaka-metro-ka 02-- 626) knocked down a doctor from his motorcycle and dragged him to death in front of Sobhanbagh Mosque in the city. Dr Mohammad Shahjhan Ali, 40, was dragged for more than a kilometre as his leg got tangled in the car's bumper. The Government later banned the use of bumpers, but the order was stayed by the high court upon a writ.


NTV Goes On Air
The country's fourth private television channel NTV (National television) started its journey on July 3. President Iajuddin Ahmed pressed the button of its remote transmission panel set up at a local hotel. Though in his speech, the president has claimed that the government believes in freedom of speech and the people's right to know, this year the government has denied another popular private channel Etv the license to operate.


The year has witnessed several death penalties and life imprisonment being handed over for killing minors. On July 30, the Second Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge handed down 38 years of rigorous imprisonment to Mohammad Moslem, Mohammad Saiful Islam Ratan, Abdullah-al-Mamun alias Ragkata Mamun and Sumon for killing two year old Marian Islam Naushin.
In another case, a tribunal sentenced to death Mohammad Ripon, 20, for killing five-year-old Don. According to the investigation officer, Ripon killed his brother-in-law Don over dowry-related dispute. The judgement noted that the society and the court no longer wanted to see the tears of parents of any other minor like Don.


Government Goes Ahead with Gram Sarkar

The government begins formation of Gram Sarkar, which coincides with a high court hearing of a writ challenging the legality of the act. "We have completed all preparations for the formation of the local government bodies as scheduled," says Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, local government and rural development and co-operatives minister. But the opposition has called upon the government to give up its plan terming it a move that might destroy the locally elected Union Parshids.


Khulna AL Chief Gunned Down
Khulna city Bangladesh Awami League chief Manjurul Imam was killed in a spray of bullets and bomb blasts by assailants in the city.


India's Water Diversion Plan
Dhaka handed over a protest note to New Delhi expressing concern at a so-called mega-project designed to divert waters from the common major rivers to India's drought-prone states. This 200 billion dollars project will have devastating consequences on the northern part of Bangladesh.


Six More Get Death sentence in Shazneen case
A tribunal sentenced to death, six among the seven accused for raping and killing fifteen-year-old Shazneen Tasnim Rahman. "The killing went beyond the realm of fiction. It appears reality has surpassed imagination. It was like snatching of a child from her loving mother," the judge observed.


Police: the Most Corrupt
The Bangladesh chapter of Transparency Bangladesh (TIB) has published its country report. "Police topped the 874 cases of graft reported in 21 newspapers between January and June," the Berlin based organisation observes. TIB's database shows corruption in financial sector as 37.3 percent; police 22.4, in terms of corruption incidents; education sector, 12.9 and local government 10.1 percent. In 35.9 percent cases, government officials and employees were found to have indulged in corruption.


Barrister Rokan Uddin Mahmood, president of Supreme Court Bar Association, disclosed the name of a High Court judge who had allegedly taken Tk. 50,000 bribe from a person for fixing bail.


50 nurses were hurt when the police swooped on a sit-in in Motijheel. About 1000 unemployed Diploma student nurses staged the sit-in against the alleged illegal government move to appoint nurses taking hefty bribes.


Question papers of a written test for the post of Assistant teachers at government primary schools got leaked.


A Bangladeshi student Rezwan Haque secured highest marks in English Language at O-level all over the world under the Cambridge University Board.


35 people were killed and more than 200 were injured when suicide bombers struck the Red Cross Head Quarters and three police stations across Baghdad.


The country plunged into one of the longest and worst power outages as 21 of the 23 power plants tripped one after another. Except Sylhet and Mymensingh the entire country plunged into darkness at around 9.35am. Though power returned to some important places like the Secretariat and PMO after around noon it was not until 7.30 pm when things returned to some sort of normalcy.


A gang of robbers raided and burned down a two-storey earthen house in Banshkhali, 30 miles off Chittagong, killing 11 members of a family, including a 4-day-old baby. The robbers broke into the house of Tajendra Lal Shushil and, after looting the ground floor, attempted to break down the wooden door of the first floor where the family was hiding. Enraged at not being able to break down the door, they threatened those inside and finally torched the house. Only one member of the family, Shushil's son Bimalendra Lal Shushil survived the tragedy.


The army seized a high-profile haul of firearms and ammunition including an antiaircraft machine gun and a rocket launcher in a raid on a terrorist den in Khagrachhari. The raid was described by senior army officials as their biggest success since the landmark peace deal in 1997 after the thirty-year bush war.


Pizza Hut, the world's largest pizza chain formally opened its first franchise in Dhaka. The restaurant, which can host 220 persons at a time has proved to be a major hit among Dhaka's restaurant-goers.


The year of custodial murders and mob Lynching
The year was clouded by the number of deaths in police custody reminiscent of the Operation Clean Heart Days. These included Mahbubul Alam Rony an 18 year old who was beaten to death by the police allegedly because the family could not pay the huge demanded by the interrogators. Amar Das another young man, who the police say was involved in the abduction of businessman Jamaluddin Ahmed Chowdhury was according to his family, torture and poisoned to death.
While the police have been getting busy committing more crime than helping to curb it the public has taken the law into their own hands. Angry mobs, disillusioned by police inaction and the rise in crime, have been beating up alleged hijackers to death. The most sensational case of mob lynching was in Char Clerk, Noakhali where villagers chased a gang of bandits into a forest and then flushed them out over a few days. The criminals, who had apparently unleashed a reign of terror in the village raping and looting and killing, were killed by the villagers in the most gruesome way. While around 40 of them were killed a few had their eyes gorged out and one of them had his genitals cut out.


Five persons were sentenced to death and nine to life imprisonment by the Speedy Trial Tribunal in Chittagong in the sensational Nurul Islam abduction and murder case. Nurul Islam, an advocate and BNP leader, was abducted on September 18, 2000 and later his dead body was thrown in the Meghna river. 15 others including the main accused Abu Taher were acquitted.


The lower house of French parliament backed a draft law making reproductive cloning of human cells a crime against humanity punishable by 30 years in jail and a 7.5 million euro ($9 million) fine. The draft law would also ban cloning for therapeutic purposes the creation of stem cells for medical research and key techniques used in embryo research. The final legislation will be adopted early next year as long as the upper house also passes it. France has been one of the country's most opposed to cloning technologies. President Jacques Chirac has expressed his desire to lead efforts for an international convention on bioethics to prevent abuse of cloning research.

The year of Religious Intolerance
Ahmadiyya's have also been the brunt of religious intolerance. Huge anti-Ahmadiyyas have taken place in December rallies anti-Ahmadiyya's have attacked Ahmadiyya mosques, beaten community members and threatened dire consequences to their victims and their supporters. They have been persistent in their demand that the state declare. Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslim. The demonstrators have criticised the State Minister for Religious Affairs comments that showed his disapproval of their actions. They have also demanded arrest and trial of writer Humayan Azad for his novel Pak Sar Jamin Saad Baad published in a Bangla daily's Eid issue.


Capture of Saddam Hussain
The American forces made world news headlines when they announced that they had caught the man they love to hate the most, Saddam Hussain. Saddam was arrested in a dirt cellar under a farm house near his home town of Tikrit on Saturday without a fight. "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," announced US administrator Paul Bremer at a news conference in Baghdad. The American forces claim that Saddam's deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz in US custody for seven months, as well a DNA test has confirmed the dictator's identity. Saddam was shown on TV and appeared to be a dazed, confused man with a long beard and worn out face -- barely recognisable from the formidable ruler who was seldom seen without his army uniform.


The left is rising, or is it just a semblance of an awakening? Recently the 11-party alliance tried to raise the confidence of the masses. To fill out the vacuum that runs deep into our political culture, the alliance are taking initiatives to fit in role of a conscious minority. They had an 11-point agenda to carry forward. On 13 December, to press their demands, the alliance called for hartal that was a mild success. Although it was not marked by violence, it left in its wake several wounded and many in police custody. It also brought into salience the fact that the ruling coalition is not tolerant of the kind of development that may bring left-centred politics into the mainstream. The reaction of the authority to an otherwise peaceful hartal speaks for itself.According to newspaper reports, at least 15 leaders and activists of the alliance suffered injuries, when police took to baton charge. Nearly a hundred of the picketing activists were rounded up from different areas of the city.
In Narayanganj, a procession of the 11-party was attacked by BNP henchmen who organised an anti-hartal procession.
The hartal was called to press home an 11-point demand that included removal of the war criminals from the cabinet; putting end to misrule, corruption, religious extremism and price hike.


A major event this year for the ILO (International Labour Organisation), and IPEC (International Programme on Eliminating Child Labour was the success of a project (funded by these two) to take 10,000 children out of hazardous bidi factories. The project was carried out by several NGOs including BRAC. The children who used to work at the bidi factories have been placed in non-formal schools and some of then are being trained in various skills. What's more even the mothers are being given loans so that they can start poultry or dairy farming, fisheries and cow or goat rearing.


Disappearing Documents
The discovery that all documents concerning the killing of the intellectuals on the fateful day of December 14, 1971 are lost, did not find the Bangladeshis unguarded. It has become a trend of sorts, the slow ascent of the anti-liberation force to the mainstream politics and the dwindling of morale of the vast majority. The diminishing spirit and the apathy on the part of the citizenry go hand in hand. A “Prothom Alo” report unfurls how apathy runs deep into our system. A senior inspector at CMM court said outright to the investigating journalist, "Was there any case filed against this crime back then?" Another officer at Ramna Police Station demanded, "What is the use of looking for these documents?"The last hope for justice is now even obliterated, as all relevant documents to incriminate the culprits are lost.
The misdeeds of the Al-Badr and Al-Shams have been erased altogether. At some point the papers were burnt, the report said. The relevant persons and the CMM court had nothing to say in this case.


From truth to wayward life
In a wall-writing near the bus stand at Kalayanpur an English phrase emerged last month. It declared: Come to the path of truth and join JCD. JCD is the student wing of the ruling Nationalist Party, which has this habit of stirring up this theological fervour from time to time.
The same organisation -- the student wing of BNP -- during a victory festival in Chittagong, put up four stalls to facilitate 'one to ten', -- an indigenous mode of gambling. The public as usual fell prey to this device. The visitors lost and left with empty pockets and the organisers won big-time. The festival itself was a BNP organised affair. The chairman of the community that took the initiative to organise and manage this big event was taken by surprise when faced with the question of infringement of law from a journalist of “Prothom Alo”.
The enthusiasts who were running the stalls were pretty frank about their anomalous actions, one of them said -- "The community approves of having these arrangements.”


Seven-year-old Nitu was slaughtered by a gang after they failed to rape her and her eight-year-old playmate. Nitu and her friend were forcefully taken to a nearby jungle when they were playing close to Iswardy Railway Station. When the culprits tried to rape them the girls screamed, attracting the attention of people nearby. The friend was captured but Nitu could not be saved.


Another gruesome murder
Fifty-year-old Fakhruddin Ahmed, a salt trader and his 14-year-old son Miraj were shot dead by a gang of hoodlums who barged into their home in Pallabi early in the morning. At the time Miraj and his father were sleeping. The police think the murder was a consequence of business rivalry or because Ahmed had not satisfied toll demands of extortionists. Ahmed, who was a stranded Pakistani, was shot in the head at close range when he refused to give them the keys to the almira . When Miraj tried to hold his father, another culprit shot him in the chest. They were both declared dead at the DMCH. The horrifying incident took place right in front of Ahmed's wife, daughter and younger son. The incident has sparked widespread outrage and fear among the members of the community the victims belonged to and a half day hartal was called by the Stranded Pakistanis' Youth Rehabilitation Movement at Mirpur Section 11.

Dear Readers,
This is a selection of major events of the year. The events have been picked according to their news value. We have confined our selection to mainly national events with only a handful of major international events. Some newsworthy events have not been included due to space constraints. Due to our printing schedule we have not been able to include events occurring after December 21. Our apologies for the inconvenience.

-SWM Team


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