Strike in Bangladesh over Khaleda Zia’s eviction

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DHAKA - A nationwide dawn-to-dusk strike was called by the opposition in Bangladesh Sunday over the eviction of former prime minister Khaleda Zia from the government house she has lived in since 1972.

Roads across the country witnessed very thin traffic and all educational institutions were closed, The Daily Star newspaper reported.

The strike was called over Zia’s eviction Saturday from the single-storeyed colonial house in Dhaka Cantonment.

While the army, which technically owns the house, said Zia had quit voluntarily, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that Zia leads insists she was evicted.

The government acted after the Dhaka High Court rejected Oct 12 Zia’s appeal against her eviction. The court gave a one-month quit notice that ended Friday.

Zia had appealed to the Supreme Court that fixed Nov 29 for hearing. Her lawyers Saturday claimed to have received an “assurance” from the chief justice against eviction.

A tearful Zia, 64, told the media Saturday evening at her party office that she was “forcibly dragged out” of her house. She was not even allowed to change her clothes and had to leave “ek kapore”, meaning with the clothes she had on at that time.

The former prime minister said memories of her husband and the country’s former president, late Ziaur Rahman, were in that house and she was not even allowed to bring out her personal belongings.

Zia and her supporters disregarded an appeal by the country’s business leaders who urged her to withdraw Sunday’s strike call considering the “economic condition and suffering of homebound people before Eid-ul-Azha”, the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) reported.

In a joint statement, they said new investors were showing interest in putting in their money. “Sunday’s hartal would have a negative impact on investments.”

Speaking for the government, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said Zia’s counsel had not moved the stay petition against the high court verdict to the appellate division to gain “political mileage”.

According to Supreme Court rules, the high court verdict cannot be automatically stayed unless it involves death sentence, he was quoted as saying in the New Age Sunday.

Political observers said the incident would sharpen confrontation between Zia, who has been boycotting parliament, and her arch political rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In an editorial Sunday, The Daily Star criticised the government’s action.

“A legal battle takes to the street. Khaleda should have been allowed to stay till the Supreme Court hearing.”

“In an instance of impatience, leading to political ineptitude, a strong legal and moral case has been transformed into a street battle, to the advantage of BNP. Government’s action of yesterday was crude, uncivil and unnecessary.”

“BNP’s hartal call is unthinking. However, it will be the public who will have to pay for their errors,” it said.

Meanwhile, incidents of violence are being linked to the dispute.

Three people were killed and two injured in a suicide bomb attack at the house of ruling Awami League lawmaker Afaz Uddin Ahmed in Daulatpur subdistrict of Kushtia Saturday night.

Awami League said BNP activists and its Islamist ally Jamaat might have been involved since the incident happened right after Zia’s eviction.

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