Capping a long-drawn-out drama, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday left her Dhaka cantonment residence and claimed the government had forced her out.
The news sent the activists of the main opposition party into an orgy of violence in the capital and elsewhere. They vandalised at least 100 vehicles and torched around a dozen.
Some 80 people were injured in clashes between BNP supporters and police across the country. The law enforcers arrested some 50 party workers.
The party enforces a countrywide dawn-to-dusk hartal today to protest the "eviction" of its chairperson.
It said the way the government made the former prime minister leave her house was "illegal and unprecedented", as the matter was awaiting a hearing at the Supreme Court.
The army, however, maintained that Khaleda had voluntarily vacated the house. Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) said the BNP chief did it out of respect for the High Court order that asked the government to allow her a month's time to vacate the Shaheed Mainul Road house. The time expired on Friday night.
The ruling Awami League said the government or the party had no role to play in this regard.
Briefing journalists at her Gulshan office at 7:15pm, a weeping Khaleda said, "I was evicted from my house. I was dragged out and forced to get in the car."
She added she was harassed, humiliated and ashamed by the way she was treated.
After the briefing, she moved into her brother Shamim Eskander's Gulshan residence. Some of her household items had already been shifted there.
Khaleda had been living in the cantonment house for 38 years since the days when her husband Ziaur Rahman was deputy chief of the army. After the assassination of president Zia in 1981, the then army chief HM Ershad had allotted her the 2.72-acre house at a token price.
In April last year, the Cantonment Board declared the allotment illegal and issued a notice asking her to leave the house. Khaleda's lawyers filed a petition challenging the legality of the notice.
On October 13, the High Court declared the notice legal and asked Khaleda to vacate the residence. It directed the government to give her 30 days' time for that.
The BNP chief's counsels went to the Supreme Court for permission to file an appeal against the HC ruling. The apex court is scheduled to hear the leave-to-appeal petition on November 29.
BNP sources said the army authorities on Friday night communicated a message to their chairperson, saying she should leave the house in the morning.
As the news spread, party leaders and workers started gathering at the Shaheed Jahangir Gate.
At around 6:00am, some army men sought to get in Khaleda's residence, but the guards refused to let them in. Shortly afterwards, a large contingent of Rab and policemen cordoned off the house.
At around 8:00am, the BNP sources continued, the law enforcers entered the house by knocking down a part of the front door. Between 10:00am and noon, they hauled 61 people out of the house.
While BNP claimed most of the 61 were staff of Khaleda Zia, the ISPR described them as "unauthorised occupants".
On the house premises, the law enforcers rapped on the door of the building where Khaleda resides. As she did not respond, they forced their way inside and damaged a few rooms.
According to the party sources, the security men slapped a few of Khaleda's staff when they tried to stop them.
This prompted Khaleda to come out of her bedroom. As the officers requested her to accept the High Court verdict and vacate the house, she said she would first consult her lawyers.
This led to an argument, and at one stage, the law enforcers asked her to follow them.
Two of them ushered the BNP chief towards her car, which came out of the cantonment through Banani gate at 3:15pm. Amid police protection, she reached her Gulshan office at around 3:50pm, as the opposition activists burst into anti-government slogans.
The opposition supporters clashed with the law enforcers in many places across the country, including in Dhaka's Shaheed Jahangir Gate area, Mohakhali, and in front of the BNP Central Office at Naya Paltan.
Hearing the news that Khaleda would be "evicted" from the house, around 100 BNP leaders including Opposition Chief Whip Zainul Abdin Farroque gathered in front of Jahangir Gate, one of the main entrances to Dhaka cantonment, early in the morning. Police chased them away around noon.
The law enforcers did not allow any BNP leader or lawyer, including Supreme Court Bar Association President Khandaker Mahbub Hossain and former law minister Moudud Ahmed, inside the cantonment.
The BNP activists staged a sit-in on the road between Mohakhali and Farmgate for half an hour and vandalised a number of vehicles when police tried to disperse them.
They locked into a clash and police charged truncheons on them. A female activist was injured during this clash near Jahangir Gate.
The BNP men took cover in lanes and by lanes across the street from Shaheen College and Mohakhali Flyover and started vandalising vehicles. Halting traffic, they ransacked vehicles in phases for more than two hours. This continued until they heard that Khaleda had left the house.
At a press conference in the afternoon, BNP Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain said Khaleda's "eviction" was absolutely unlawful, undemocratic and autocratic.
"She [Khaleda] was taken to an unknown location with force from her cantonment house before being taken to her Gulshan office," he said at the press conference at Khaleda's Gulshan office after having a meeting with the BNP chairperson.
Meanwhile, lawyers of Khaleda, including Moudud Ahmed, went to meet Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque at his residence in the morning to discuss Khaleda's leave-to-appeal petition pending with the Supreme Court.
The ruling Awami League yesterday urged the opposition to withdraw the hartal, considering public sufferings ahead of Eid. It also thanked Khaleda for vacating the house showing respect to the High Court verdict.
AL acting general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said, "The Cantonment Board issued a notice to Khaleda Zia to vacate the illegally-occupied house of the deputy chief of staff of the army. She [Khaleda] filed a writ petition against the notice with the High Court, but the court snubbed it. Here the government or the Awami League had no role to play."
In the morning, ISPR had said the opposition leader was preparing to leave the house willingly. Around noon it said she would leave the house showing respect to the HC order and the army authorities were trying to take over the house.
Before the clashes, ISPR held a press briefing at a building near the cantonment gate and informed journalists about developments.
"As she had been moving valuable goods of her house to other places for the last few days, it seemed she wants to help implement the court order," said ISPR Director Shahinul Islam at the briefing.
An ISPR press release issued yesterday evening said, "Khaleda Zia has helped implementing the court order by leaving the residence at 6 Shaheed Mainul Road in Dhaka Cantonment willingly at around 3:15pm today [Saturday] showing respect to the honourable High Court division order."
She took with her most of the materials she uses daily, it said adding that the authorities would take measures to send the remaining goods at a proper time according to her wish.
"The house was sealed off after Khaleda Zia left the house," said the ISPR release, adding that she desired to go to her brother's Baridhara house. Later, she went to her Gulshan office, it said.
The ISPR release said, "It is mentionable that the government donated a house in Gulshan. Besides, the 29 Mintoo Road house has been allotted to her as the leader of the opposition. She can live at any home she wishes."
Soon after Khaleda left the cantonment area, the ISPR director at another press briefing said, "Officials of the military estate office took over the house."
Opposition Chief Whip Zainul Abdin Farroque termed ISPR's statements false and said it was made to mislead people.
Kafrul Police Station last night refused to record any case over the "forced eviction" of Khaleda Zia from her cantonment residence, BNP chief's lawyer Masud Ahmed Talukder told The Daily Star.
Mahbub-Al Amin Deu, personal assistant of the BNP chairperson, along with Masud and another lawyer Sanaullah Mian, went to the police station to file the case.