Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused her besieged opposition rival of trying to trigger anarchy Monday as security forces clamped down on protests on the first anniversary of her controversial re-election.
After main opposition leader Khaleda Zia accused Hasina of trying to cling onto power by force, the prime minister countered that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief was responsible for a wave of violence that left at least four people dead in the volatile South Asian nation.
“I am urging the BNP leader to stop these bomb and grenade attacks, these acts of sabotage, and killings, of arson and damage to property,” Hasina said in a televised address to the nation, exactly a year after she was re-elected in what was effectively a one-horse race.
Hasina warned against efforts to create “anarchy and instability” on a day of widespread violence that also saw riot police clash with BNP supporters when Zia tried to break a siege of her headquarters.
Zia, a two-times former premier, has been confined to her offices in the capital Dhaka since Saturday to prevent her from spearheading protests to denounce the elections on January 5, 2014, and demand new polls.
“Not only am I prisoner, but the whole of the country is being held captive. What kind of country are we living in?” said Zia after she failed to breach the police cordon.
The siege intensified on Monday as security forces parked a convoy of trucks laden with sand and bricks outside the office compound before then padlocking the gates.
When dozens of her supporters tried to break the siege, riot police fired pepper spray at them. Television footage showed BNP members wiping away tears after they tried to prise open the compound gates.
Zia could be seen sitting in her car, with the engine revving. She later spoke to journalists who managed to sneak over the wall.
Hasina and Zia have ruled Bangladesh for most of the last three decades and their hatred of each other is notorious.
“This government is illegal because it was not elected by the people. They sprayed pepper at us. It is not a normal situation. Is the country facing a war?” said Zia, calling the government “illegal” and urging people to join protests.
“They want to hang on to power… by bullets, tear gas and bombs.”
“The protests will continue… No dictator can cling onto power like this,” she added while her party vowed to mobilise a blockade of roads and railways on Tuesday.
Zia’s confinement evoked memories of voting day when she was also prevented by riot police from leaving the compound.
The BNP was one of 20 opposition parties which boycotted last year’s election, claiming that the outcome would be rigged.
Hasina, in power since 2009, had refused to step down before the election so the poll could be organised by a neutral caretaker administration.
– Deadly clashes –
The boycott meant most members in the 300-seat parliament were returned unopposed, handing Hasina another five years in power.
Voting was overshadowed by firebomb attacks on polling booths and clashes which left around 25 people dead.
Twelve months on, there were similar scenes in cities and towns around the country.
Police in the northern district of Rajshahi fired live rounds at hundreds of protesters after they attacked them with firearms, petrol bombs and rocks, said local police chief Alamgir Kabir.
“One person was killed in the firing,” he told AFP.
Two BNP activists were shot dead during clashes with supporters of Hasina’s Awami League in another northern town, Natore, a local inspector said, adding at least 15 people were injured.
In the nearby town of Kansat another protester died of his wounds after clashes with police and border guards, police said.
In Dhaka hundreds of pro-opposition lawyers joined the protests at the sprawling complex which houses the Supreme Court, where they waved black flags to signal the death of democracy.
Police locked the gates into the main building, confining protesters to the grounds outside. Clashes also erupted at the national press club where the BNP’s deputy leader spoke at a rally.
The election day violence last year was the culmination of the bloodiest year of political unrest in Bangladesh’s short history, with tensions also heightened by the death sentences passed on leading Islamists over their role in the 1971 independence war from Pakistan.
More than 500 people were killed in political violence in 2013.