Bangladesh’s Opposition leader Khaleda Zia has said that the Army should act to end the chaos in the country.

Speaking at rallies in the northern districts on Sunday, she expressed the hope that the Army would not play the role of “a silent spectator while people are getting killed,” and that it would “play its role in due time.” “The Army has responsibilities. It cannot act as a silent spectator. It cannot only observe the situation because it is also a part of the country.”

The former Prime Minister said members of the armed forces would not be picked for peacekeeping missions if there was unrest in Bangladesh. “Our military works for maintaining peace abroad. They will not sit idle in case of any anarchy in the country. They will duly discharge their duties,” she told a rally at Bogra, where activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), went berserk after the War Crimes Tribunal sentenced its leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee to death on February 28.

Bogra was the worst-hit place in the latest spell of violence, in which more than 60 people were killed in clashes with the police and paramilitary forces across the country.

“Genocide”

The BNP chairperson termed police action against Jamaat protesters “genocide,” and said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Bangladesh Awami League should be tried for these killings.

Referring to the political unrest, Ms. Khaleda Zia, wife of the slain military strongman Gen. Ziaur Rahman, pointed to Bangladeshi soldiers playing an important role in the U.N. peacekeeping missions. However, “If there is no peace in their own country, the foreigners will say the Army cannot ensure peace in their own backyard. Time has come today to think of this,” she said.

Ms. Zia’s statement, coming amid tension between the two top political parties, has been termed “surprising” and “provocative” by a number of former army chiefs, defence analysts and civil society leaders.

Ms. Zia, who is supporting the Jamaat’s demand for stopping the war crimes trial, said that if necessary, the country would be crippled in order to oust Ms. Hasina’s “most autocratic, bloodthirsty, killer and most corrupt government.” She said her party would announce fresh agitation programmes soon.

A large number of leaders and activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its students’ body, Islami Chhatra Shibir, attended all rallies she addressed. At one meeting, Ms. Zia said the government was on the brink of collapse and could be ousted with a nudge. “It’s now a matter of time.” She also called upon all professionals, including the civil administration and the police, to join the mass movement.

She also demanded that the Army be deployed during the elections scheduled for January next to make the process free and fair. The BNP has submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission, demanding that magistracy power be conferred on the Army during the elections.