At least one opposition activist has died and hundreds of others were injured in clashes across Bangladesh as tens of thousands demanded Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s removal ahead of elections expected in January.
Tens of thousands of opposition activists on Tuesday defied the scorching sun to march in capital Dhaka and other cities, calling for Hasina’s resignation. Hasina’s Awami League has ruled the world’s eighth most populous country since 2009 and has been accused of human rights abuses and corruption.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and dozens of smaller allies have called for protests throughout the country to demand Hasina step down and the polls take place under a neutral caretaker government.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the BNP, called upon the government to immediately step down, dissolve parliament and hand power to an interim administration to help restore democracy in the South Asian country.
In Dhaka, activists and supporters from different parts of the city joined the march that stretched for nearly 13km, bringing traffic at different points to a standstill for hours on a busy weekday.
The BNP said its marches came under attack in Dhaka and at least 16 other places on Tuesday. “Sajib Hossain, one of our activists, was hacked and shot dead by members of the student wing of the ruling party” in Laxmipur, BNP spokesman Zahir Uddin Swapan told the AFP news agency.
He accused police of opening fire with shotguns at hundreds of BNP supporters in the southern coastal district, leaving at least 200 people injured.
Joynal Abedin, a doctor at the state-run Laxmipur Sadar Hospital, confirmed one person was killed and at least 50 others were injured. “We have to conduct a post-mortem to know what caused the death,” he said.
A police inspector said they were not sure the death was a result of clashes between the opposition and the ruling party. National police spokesman Monzur Rahman refused to comment on the nationwide violence.
BNP announced it would hold similar protests in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country also on Wednesday.
The BNP has been holding protests against rising commodity prices and demanding the unconditional release of party chief Khaleda Zia and the formation of an interim government for the polls.
Zia, sentenced to ten years on a corruption charge, is banned from engaging in political activities or leaving the country after her conditional release in March 2020.
BNP spokesperson Annie said 17 leaders and activists have died and 1,790 have been injured in clashes with police and supporters of the ruling Awami League between Aug.22, 2022, and Jul.12, 2023.
The clashes come at a moment of apparent escalation of political tensions ahead of the next general elections due between December 2023 and January 2024.
The Awami League and the BNP have ruled Bangladesh since 1991, except for a brief quasi-military rule in 2007–08.