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B'desh heads back to street politics

world Updated: Jul 01, 2010 13:42 IST

Reuters
Highlight Story

Violent protests have erupted once again in Bangladesh after a 3-year lull over issues ranging from the arrest of leaders of an Islamist party to better wages for garment workers.

The unrest has stoked fears of a return to the politics of confrontation and policy deadlock that have often in the past led to military intervention.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who took office in January in 2009 after two years of military-backed rule by an interim administration, has rejected opposition demands to resign and call early elections.

Following are some questions and answers relating to the renewed unrest.

WHAT HAS TRIGGERED THE UNREST ?

The latest flashpoint is the arrest of three top leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's biggest Islamic political party, on charges of sedition and murder. The Jamaat, which is an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has said the arrests were politically motivated and called for countrywide protests.

The Jamaat has been accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army during the 1971 war of independence, in which around three million people were killed and thousands of women raped. The party denies the charges, and in turn, has accused Hasina of trying to curb its activities through war crime charges.

CAN THE WAR CRIMES ISSUE POLARISE THE NATION ?

Political analysts and diplomats say the public broadly supports the holding of trials that have been stymied for fears of a backlash. Many have offered to give evidence of the crimes committed at the time including rape, murder, abduction, arson and looting, demanding that the guilty be held accountable. On Wednesday, people cheered as the three Jamaat leaders were brought to a court in the capital Dhaka.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER ISSUES ?

The BNP called a strike at the weekend that shut most businesses and halted public transport as part of its campaign to force the government to force the government to resign and call early elections. The BNP says Hasina had failed on her promise to improve law and order, power and gas supplies, infrastructure and reduce corruption. It is planning more protests to increase the pressure on the government. Elections are not due until end 2013.

Separately, a campaign by textile employees seeking better pay and working conditions has turned violent with clashes with police. Several factories, many of which have made ready-to-wear garments for global brands like Marks & Spencer, JC Penney, Wal-Mart and H&M, have been shut down as a result of the protests.

WHAT WILL BE THE FALLOUT ?

Hasina is unlikely to give in to the opposition's demand to resign and call mid-term elections, thus setting the stage for a new confrontation with her bitter rival Khaleda Zia. Street unrest could intensify with members of the two parties clashing and disturbing public order. Policy-making will likely suffer as the government devotes its energy to keeping order. Although the military has made no attempt to directly take power since 1991, it remains a dominant force in the nation's politics.