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     Volume 6 Issue 28 | July 20, 2007 |

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News Notes

It is Time to Deliver
Even six months after the military-backed interim government has taken over, prices of essentials have been rising and are gradually going far beyond the means of ordinary people. Decision makers, it seems, are divided over the issue. While many still blame it on several business syndicates allegedly run by Bangladesh Nationalist Party high up, some policy makers are calling the spiralling prices normal, just a freak of the open market economy.
The government, however, has tried to tame the bazaar by launching a drive on hoarding (and by introducing BDR-run markets), but nothing fruitful has come out so far. Inflation has remained a big issue, and the central bank has done very little to tackle this menace. What eludes everyone is the plight of the toiling masses who have not experienced any rise in their real income. If the issue of rising prices of rice, vegetables and baby food is not immediately addressed, chances are there that we will have to face a crisis of a grotesque proportion. The government has to take immediate steps to bring the market under control, blaming everything on the unforeseen forces of market capitalism will not help anyone. The government must remember that the tasks that it has at hand is immense, and if the issues integral to people's everyday are not rightly handled properly the popularity it enjoys among the masses will be at stake. The honeymoon is over-- it is time to deliver.

An Outbreak of Mass Hysteria
Over fifty students and a teacher from the Adiabad Islamia Multipurpose High School and College in the Raipura upazila of Narsingdi suffered from convulsions and fainting spells on Saturday, causing widespread panic not only throughout the school but also around the nation. The patients were rushed to the Narsingdi Sadar Hospital where they received first aid and proceeded to fall in and out of consciousness throughout the day. Since doctors could not understand what the problem was eight of them were shifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Saturday evening for further examination.
It was almost a day later when doctors surmised that this "mysterious disease" was none other than a bout of mass hysteria that spread among the students and the teacher at the school. Principal of Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) and Prof of Medicine MA Foyez claims that mass hysteria is a psychological problem that usually affects young females and spreads within people who are sharing the same space. In other words, when one particular person is experiencing symptoms of mass hysteria, in all probability many others will follow suit. The patients are now undergoing psychological treatment. Although there is apparently nothing overtly dangerous or life threatening about this "disease" a medical board of 10 members from various medical disciplines such as psychiatry, neurology, gastroenterology, nephrology and cardiology, has been formed in order to further examine this issue and find out the causes of this sudden attack of hysteria centring around the school. In addition four medical teams, including two from the armed forces, one from the Directorate General of Health and the last from the Narsingdi civil surgeon's office are investigating the environment of the school in question, looking into factors such as drinking water.
The school itself has been shut down tentatively for three days and according to Principal Nur Shakhawat Hossain, the vacation will last longer if necessary. Further probing into the matter revealed that a few students developed similar symptoms last Wednesday, but the school authorities assumed that they might have been suffering from heat stroke. Even more disturbing is the fact that last year, a few similar cases with fewer people occurred in schools located in Munshiganj and Faridpur. It is terribly sad that a school has to undergo a mass crippling of this sort before they actually take action and try to figure out what the problem is.

Hasina in Jail

Sheikh Hasina's arrest on July 16 was not exactly the most unforeseen consequence of the government's 'cleansing drive' especially after her open criticism of the government recently. The former prime minister and present president of the Awami League herself was apparently prepared for it. Yet it still did not fail to create a furore. Moments after it was known that Hasina had been taken to jail by the joint forces from her Dhanmandi residence supporters all over the country protested on the streets and not surprisingly were swooped on by the police; public demonstrations are banned under the present emergency situation.
Hasina's arrest has been met with widespread criticism from many quarters, most of all from AL leaders who termed it 'unfortunate' and 'unnecessary' and a demonstration of the present government's seriousness to implement the 'minus two' formula. Diehard supporters of Hasina like Motia Chowdhury condemned the arrest as the result of a conspiracy to exclude her from politics, in which the government and the AL reformists are involved. Other political leaders from various parties and political analysts have pointed out that the arrest was unnecessary since Hasina was already under state surveillance and that the charges against her did not necessarily require her incarceration. The case against Hasina was filed in June this year by Azam J Chowdhury, managing director of Eastcoast Trading Private Ltd and accused Hasina and AL leader Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, her cousin, of extorting 2.99 crore taka. Azam's company was the local agent for a Russian power generation company obtained work order for the first phase of building and commissioning of Siddhirganj power plant in Narayanganj in 2000. Another extortion case was filed against Hasina in April for extorting three crore taka. According to reports Sheikh Selim had been putting pressure on the Russian company so that he could be the local agent. Later Azam proposed that Selim would be a consultant for the second phase of the work, which Sheikh Selim refused. Selim allegedly made threats and eventually was paid the amount demanded through several cheques.
Sheikh Hasina's son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, who lives in the US, has vowed to wage a movement at home and abroad and Bangladesh Chatra League (BCL), the student wing of the AL, called a strike at all educational institutions of the country, the day of the arrest, in defiance of the existing government restrictions on such activities.
Outside the country, the US, UK and India gave statements 'urging' the caretaker government ensure due process of law and international standards in dealing with the former prime minister.
The Chief Adviser has categorically said that no one is above the law and anybody found corrupt or a lawbreaker, whoever it is, will be brought to justice. The Law Adviser echoed this sentiment when he was asked to comment on Hasina's arrest but made no comment about why the government was not catching any Jamaat members for corruption cases.
The timing of the arrest has led to much speculation, not just among political leaders and activists but also from members of the civil society. It is clear that Hasina's arrest has created confusion and unease among certain quarters, as it appears to be arbitrary. It may be seen as disrupting the balance of power of the major political parties in the coming elections (as promised by the government) and tilting it towards particular players. Perhaps the most disturbing question the caretaker government has not answered is why members of the Jamaat-e- Islami have been virtually left out of the cleansing drive.

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