Bangladeshi leaders under pressure
DHAKA: Bangladesh’s prime minister and her main rival are under pressure to set aside years of bitter feuding after a grenade attack on an opposition rally killed 20 people and triggered a week of violent protests nationwide.
Sheikh Hasina, head of the main opposition Awami League party, has refused to speak with Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to quell the protests touched off by the Aug 21 attack that also injured more than 300 people. Hasina has blamed the attack on Zia’s government and says police allowed the assailants to escape. The government denies the allegation.
Unrest has spread across the country with anti-government protesters burning a train and smashing cars and buses. A two-day strike, called by the opposition, shut down schools and shops.
On Friday, the country’s business community -, which is struggling to recover from devastating monsoon floods that killed 766 people and caused an estimated US$7 billion worth of damage , called for national unity and urged both leaders to prevent the situation from deteriorating into chaos.
“They must start a dialogue to solve the problem,” Abdul Awal Mintoo, head of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry said.
Diplomats and prominent Bangladeshis echoed that view.
“I hope the prime minister and the opposition leader will work together to ensure peace in Bangladesh,” US Ambassador Harry K Thomas told reporters on Thursday. The two leaders last met 13 years ago, when they collaborated to oust military strongman Hossain Mohammad Ershad.
Hasina and Zia both entered politics on the heels of family murders. Hasina’s father was the country’s first president, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, who was assassinated in a military coup in 1975. Zia entered politics after her husband, President Ziaur Rahman, who succeeded Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated in 1981.
Hasina says Zia’s late husband protected her father’s killers by allowing them to leave the country instead of prosecuting them. She also accuses Zia of allying with Islamic parties that opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971. ap