Bangladesh opposition calls for strike

Saturday, November 27, 2010

DHAKA - Ignoring pleas from the business community which said political agitations have an impairing effect on the country’s economy, Bangladesh’s main opposition is preparing for a strike Nov 30.

While opposition leader Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) began conferring with her colleagues to ensure success of the dawn-to-dusk hartal (strike) she has called, the ruling Awami League also began consolidating its 14-party alliance to counter it, media reports said Saturday.

On Wednesday, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), A.K. Azad proposed that parliament pass a law banning strikes.

He was strongly supported by heads of other banking, trade and industry bodies.

As political forces wait for a confrontation Tuesday, they unitedly ridiculed the proposal for a ban on political agitations coming from the business chambers.

While the opposition pooh-poohed the proposal made earlier this week, two influential ministers of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government criticised the business leaders for making such a demand.

“Why are you giving such provocative statements,” Abdul Latif Siddiqui, minister for textiles and jute, asked of leaders of the FBCCI, the country’s apex business body.

“You FBCCI members have not come from the sky… you can show non-cooperation to hartal,” Siddiqui was quoted as saying by the United News of Bangladesh (UNB).

Shahjahan Khan, minister of shipping, said a ban on strikes through law “would be a move designed to snatch the fundamental rights of people”.

Khaleda Zia, evicted from her house Nov 13, has given the strike call against the government led by her main political rival, saying that there is no law and order and that the government is “working for foreign interests”.

A series of street agitations have ensued since her eviction.

The government says Zia is spreading anarchy.

Siddiqui said that if at all there should be a law, it should be against “anarchy or troublemakers during hartal”.

“Action should be taken in line with the law, that’s all,” New Age newspaper quoted him as saying.

He said generally a hartal is called “to protect the interests of the people”. “But the BNP-sponsored hartal is just for protecting one person’s interest.”

These arguments did not impress the business community, which said the economy has had a good run in the last nearly two years and should not suffer a setback.

Exports have gone up and economic indicators have shown a 37 percent jump in the last four months. Strikes would push the economy back, they said.

According to media reports, the business community apprehends a repeat of the political impasse that led to the cancellation of parliamentary polls in 2007.

A caretaker government that ruled without popular mandate held back key economic decisions and jailed thousands of politicians and businessmen in the name of fighting corruption.

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