Dhaka: Bangladesh government has warned protesters of invoking tough anti-terrorism measures and taking stern legal actions like the death penalty to quell the current spate of political unrest that has claimed 66 lives.
Bangladesh authorities last night warned of stern legal actions like the death penalty under the anti-terrorism law against "saboteurs", hours after opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief Khaleda Zia issued a statement, saying anti-government protests would continue.
"I am ready to face any consequences as our backs have been pushed against the wall. We have no alternative to the movement," she said.
Immediately after her statement, the state-run Bangladesh Television warned that the saboteurs would face death penalty for activities like burning people to death by throwing petrol bombs on vehicles.
Officials familiar with the government plan to enforce the anti-terror law said the cabinet preferred to activate the existing law after reviewing options to enact fresh laws to handle the unrest.
The Home Ministry also issued a statement highlighting the other legal provisions against instigating and patronising violence under the law which was amended last year suggesting tough punitive actions.
Meanwhile, a court in Panchagarh took cognisance of a case accusing Zia of "instigating arson attack" in the district recently. The complaint has been filed by a ruling Awami League supporter.
Police in Dhaka and central Comilla has already slapped similar charges against Zia in connection with two of the worst arson attacks that left over 12 people dead and several others injured.
Zia has been accused of ordering the attacks in the cases and legal experts have said that the ex-premier could be arrested if investigations point towards her involvement in instigating the violence.
Several of her party leaders, including BNP's acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, were earlier put behind bars to face charges in connection with the spate of violence.
Zia, however, has refused to accept the liability of the deaths caused by the unrest, saying "that we do not do politics with people's lives". She holds her arch-rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as responsible for the deaths.
Two more deaths overnight took the death toll in the violence to 66 as the BNP enforced non-stop nationwide blockade entered its 31st day today. The latest victim of the violence is a truck driver whose truck was firebombed by the suspected protesters last night in northwestern Rajshahi.
The other victim was a policeman who succumbed to burn wounds after 20 days of struggle for life at a hospital in Dhaka.
Reports said 39 of the 66 dead so far are victims of arson attacks on buses or trucks.
At least 13 people have been killed in what police said were "encounters" or shootouts with miscreants during the past 31 days. This is apart from the 66 killed in violence.
The latest two "encounter" deaths were reported today from Rajshahi and western Jessore. Both the persons killed were activists of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, a crucial ally of BNP and partner in its 2001-2006 coalition government.
Police said in both the cases they were forced to use guns as they came under attack.
The UN rights agency, the US and the UK have expressed concerns over the escalation of violence in Bangladesh.
Media reports yesterday said that an angry mob nearly lynched two suspected arsonists before handing them over to police after they had caught them for reportedly trying to hurl firebombs on a car in central Comilla.
BNP was virtually in a state of disarray since it boycotted last year's elections but it waged a fierce campaign coinciding with the first anniversary of the controversial January 5 polls demanding a fresh inclusive midterm election.
Hasina rejected the demand and asked Zia to wait until 2019 for the next scheduled polls and prepare her party for the elections by "wining the peoples' heart".