Tens of thousands of supporters of Bangladesh's main Opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on December 10 held a “grand rally” in capital Dhaka, demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s resignation and fresh elections.
Seven lawmakers of the BNP announced their resignations to protest against the government led by Ms. Hasina. Dhaka’s Golapbagh area, the venue of the rally, was under heavy security surveillance.
The party activists chanted “Sheikh Hasina is a vote thief" as the party leaders addressed the rally eastern part of the capital Dhaka city.
Residents of the capital, including office-goers, faced difficulties and many were seen waiting for public transport on the road since morning. Activists say the rally could attract one million people. The ruling Awami League activists also staged several pro-government processions. Seven BNP lawmakers announced their resignation at the rally.
“We had joined the Parliament in line with the party's decision but now there is no difference between staying or quitting...we have already emailed our resignations (to parliament secretariat),” BNP lawmaker Rumin Farhana told the rally.
She called the incumbent government an “autocratic” one and alleged it came to power by “rigging the polls", torturing the Opposition party leaders, carrying out forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and engaging in corruption.
"I am resigning in protest (against the government activities),” Ms. Farhana said, adding that she and six other fellow BNP lawmakers would deliver their resignations by hand to the Speaker’s office on December 11.
Police arrested several senior BNP leaders, including secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, and scores of activists under various charges ahead of the rally. “It is their fundamental right to stage rallies. . . we allowed them to stage it since it is not an illegal rally,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) spokesman Harunur Rashid told reporters.
“Some 20,000 law enforcement personnel have been deployed at the venue to avert any untoward incident,” he said.
The BNP is demanding Prime Minister Hasina's resignation in favour of fresh elections under a caretaker government instead of ruling Awami League, fearing the polls to be rigged by her administration. Bangladesh will hold its next general election in 2024.
"Our main demand is the resignation of Premier Sheikh Hasina and dissolution of Parliament and let a neutral caretaker government hold a free and credible election, which is not possible if the incumbent government stays in power," BNP spokesman Zahiruddin Swapan told PTI.
The BNP boycotted the 2014 and 2018 elections, but under a special provision, it allowed several of its leaders to take part in the last elections. Seven of its leaders were elected to the 350-member Parliament.
On Wednesday, one person was killed and scores others wounded as police clashed with angry BNP activists in front of their central Naya Paltan office as they were preparing for the December 10 grand rally. In a pre-dawn move on Friday, plainclothesmen arrested Alamgir and another influential party leader Mirza Abbas.
Police called the BNP’s Naya Paltan office a "crime scene" after claiming to have found Molotov cocktails at the location. Fifteen western embassies issued a joint statement last week calling upon the country to allow free expression, peaceful assembly and fair elections.
The White House on Friday urged Bangladesh authorities to fully investigate reports of violence against journalists and human rights activists and urged all parties to refrain from violence.
Political analysts said the BNP has rallied significant support but the party was rudderless after its chairperson 77-year-old Khaleda Zia was convicted of two graft charges. A court in 2017 sentenced her to a 17-year jail term and she spent months in prison.
Zia, a three-time premier, however, was allowed to stay at her home in Dhaka under a special government provision since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and debarred from joining any political activity.
The BNP has elected her expatriate elder son Tarique Rahman, also a convict in several criminal and graft charges, as its acting chairman. He now stays in London and oversees the party activities from abroad. Several Bangladeshi courts have declared him a fugitive as he failed to appear in person to face the charges.
"Despite the absence of the top leaders, the BNP showed its capacity to make its presence felt,” independent political analyst Mohiuddin Ahmed said.