Bangladesh’s opposition blockade begins amid fear of confrontation

Ruling party, Awami League (AL), leaders said they will resist any violence by opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). AL believes BNP will focus its attention on the capital. So, AL activists will remain alert in the city.


With three days of blockade to come, city dwellers got out in large numbers yesterday to get things done clogging up many streets. The photo was taken at Kakrail intersection in the afternoon. PHOTO: THE DAILY STAR

October 31, 2023

DHAKA – As BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and a host of other opposition political parties enforce a nationwide three-day rail, road, and waterways blockade from today, the ruling Awami League, police and pro-government transport leaders have devised their own plans to counter it.

Fear runs high among the public as BNP insists on making the blockade impactful, while the AL and police have vowed to challenge any violent acts.

Various transport associations, led mostly by pro-AL businesspersons, said they will defy the blockade and operate vehicles.

Police have already alerted all its units across the country to increase vigilance and beef up security. They have also set up checkpoints at the entry points to the capital and all major points of Dhaka. Rab will deploy 300 patrol teams to ensure public safety and protect public properties.

BNP and Jamaat announced the three-day blockade separately on Sunday in protest of the killings of the opposition activists during Saturday’s grand rally and the arrests of opposition party leaders and activists, as well as demanding resignation of the government.

Yesterday, eight other opposition parties essentially joined hands with BNP and Jamaat, saying they will also enforce the blockade separately. They are Jatiyatabadi Samamona Jote, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Gonoforum, People’s Party, Gonotantrik Bam Oikya, Gono Odhikar Parishad, Labour Party and National Democratic Movement.

Emergency services including ambulance, newspaper- and oxygen-carrying vehicles will remain out of the purview of the blockade, a top BNP leader said.

Some educational institutions in the capital have already announced an unofficial closure. Some other institutions have informed guardians that classes will be held online.

Many institutions, however, said they will remain open.

“My son’s school has already asked us not to send the kids. But I have to go to work. I am worried about my safety as I have grim memories of the blockade in 2015,” said Moinuddin Ahmed, a resident of Mohammadpur.

According to The Daily Star’s count, at least 95 people were killed and about 1,500 injured during 91 days of blockade — from January 5 to April 5 — in 2015 enforced by the BNP-led coalition protesting the January 5, 2014, national elections. Another 45 suspected arsonists and opposition activists were killed in “shootouts” with law enforcers at that time.

BNP did not enforce any blockade after 2015.

This time, the party plans to cut off Dhaka from the rest of the country, blocking the highways at different points of the country. Apart from the capital, BNP men will also try to isolate districts from upazilas, party insiders said.

“Our party leaders and activists will take positions at some important points,” Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, senior joint secretary general of the party, told The Daily Star yesterday.

Party sources said grassroots leaders have been given necessary instructions to make the blockade successful.

AL leaders said they will resist any violence by BNP.

The ruling party believes BNP will focus its attention on the capital. So, AL activists will remain alert in the city.

AL has directed its leaders and activists to take positions at unit offices across the country after Fajr prayer as they think BNP-Jamaat men will try to create unwanted situations from early morning to create panic.

AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader gave the directives at a joint meeting at the party headquarters on Bangabandhu Avenue.

The city unit leaders were asked to mobilise at bus terminals in the capital to boost the morale of the transport workers, said party sources.

Besides, city unit AL activists have been directed to be onboard the buses plying city roads to dispel fear among passengers and transport workers, they added.

The AL men were asked to remain alert and not to initiate any attacks. They were directed to respond fittingly if they come under attacks. The party will also hold “peace rallies” across the country.

Yesterday, a large number of people rushed out of their homes to get important tasks done before the blockade takes effect, creating massive tailbacks in many parts of the city.

Transport association leaders asked all transport workers and owners to continue operation.

They made the decision at a joint meeting with different transport associations yesterday. AL lawmaker Shajahan Khan, president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, was in the chair.

A top leader of the association said they already sought police protection to continue their operation.

“We think the blockade called by BNP and Jamaat may prolong. So, we are going to hold meetings with the police and administration within a day or two so that we can continue to operate,” the leader said, wishing not be named.

Bangladesh Railway directed all loco masters and their assistants to wear helmets during operations.

Police officials said there might be some ambush and disruptive activities during the blockade.

“We have already instructed highway, rail, and river police to remain vigilant so that no one can carry out any ambush,” said Md Anwar Hossain, deputy inspector general (operation) of the police headquarters.

“We are ready to face any untoward situations and have taken all necessary measures to ensure public safety,” he told The Daily Star.

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