Bangladesh issues shoot at sight orders during opposition strike
Dhaka: Bangladeshi authorities today issued "shoot at sight" orders as main opposition BNP and its allies in the 18-party coalition enforced a 36-hour nationwide strike demanding resignation of the ruling Awami League government.
Orders have been issued to shoot at sight the saboteurs trying to set fire to trains or buses or carrying out any other sabotage as home minister Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir met with senior officers of police and other law enforcement agencies ahead of the hartal, the mass circulation Prothom Alo newspaper reported.
Speaking with newsmen later on the sidelines of a function, Alamgir said "nothing was ordered which is contrary to the existing law of the land".
"They (law enforcement agencies) were asked to do what is required. The law allows police to use gunshots, the law has not been violated by this order," Alamgir said.
The opposition strike saw one death when a passenger bus rammed into a tea stall while being pursued by violent opposition activists, killing a farmer while two other villagers were injured.
The shoot at sight orders came after suspected opposition activists torched at least nine vehicles and damaged several others yesterday when the country celebrated the Independence Day.
Schools and big shopping malls were closed and transport was thin on the street though opposition activists did not appear on Dhaka streets where the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) while paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) were kept on alert.
Television channels reported over a dozen crude bomb blasts in parts of the capital where the suspected activists also set afire a three-wheeler today apparently adopting hit and run tactics when police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets.
"We are announcing a 36-hour hartal to wage an all-out movement against the government to realise our demands, which include the government`s resignation, restoration of the caretaker government system (for election oversight) and release of our party men," BNP`s acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told a press conference earlier.
BNP was yet to issue a statement on the government`s "shoot at sight" decision but chairman of the statutory National Human Rights Commission Professor Mizanur Rahman criticised the order saying other options were there to prevent the saboteurs.
"If it is the decision (shoot at sight) I don`t agree with that," he told newsmen.
BNP was waging a campaign over electoral system demanding restoration of a caretaker government system for election oversight as the national election was due next year but ongoing trials of several leaders of its crucial extreme rightwing ally Jamaat, for 1971 war crimes shifted their focus.
After initial hesitation, BNP eventually threw its weight with its ally, calling the trial a witch-hunt.
The violence over the war crimes trial has claimed over 70 lives. Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) and several other chamber bodies earlier expressed concerns about the negative impact of strikes on economy and urged the ruling and opposition parties to resolve disputes through talks.
But finance minister AMA Muhith accused the opposition of hurting the economy in a planned manner calling it "anti-state and anti-Bangladesh" saying "they are enforcing hartals thinking if the economy collapses, the government will be toppled".
Major newspapers carried reports on the impact of hartals on poor people like street vendors while the Prothom Alo newspaper said the transport sector was one of the worst victims of the political unrest in the recent months.
The report said at least 400 vehicles including buses and trucks were torched and 3,000 others were damaged since November and several trains were set afire and railway tracks damaged during the period, causing a loss of 9 crore takas.
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