A day-long opposition strike paralysed Bangladesh today as angry BNP workers, upset over the eviction of their leader Khaleda Zia from her residence, clashed with police at several places and forced the closing down of markets, schools and transport facilities. Hundreds of policemen in riot gear patrolled Dhaka's streets during the strike observed from dawn to dusk and detained 34 people in sporadic incidents of clashes.
Shops downed their shutters, businesses and schools remained closed in all major cities, and millions of people were stranded ahead of the festival of Eid-ul-Azha as they could not reach their villages as transport operators halted services. Baton-wielding policemen chased picketers in several areas of the city as they pelted stones on vehicles that defied the strike call and set on fire a police van at the downtown Sadarghat river port terminal.
Police, which, detained 34 people in sporadic incidents of clashes said the protesters also set on fire a police bike at central Bangla Motor area and damaged dozens of vehicles overnight.
"The hartal (strike) has been observed successfully... we will launch tougher programmes after the Eid ul Azha," BNP secretary general Khandakar Delwar Hossain, flanked by party leaders, told newsmen at the party's central office at Naya Paltan at the end of the strike.
The BNP leader said his party activists were hounded away and assaulted by the police. He reiterated his earlier comments alleging that the "eviction" of Zia from her cantonment residence was "illegal" since the case was pending in the Supreme Court. He insisted that Zia did not voluntarily vacate the house, rejecting the army's claim that she left on her own to honour the court verdict.
Hours after her eviction from the cantonment residence, Zia had told newsmen that she was humiliatingly dragged out of the house in single clothing. The house, where Zia has been living for the past 40 years, was allotted to her under a controversial lease agreement 29 years ago after her husband, the then president Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in 1981. "I was driven out of the house... I feel harassed, humiliated and ashamed of the way I was thrown out of the house," a teary eyed Zia said last night, terming an army statement claiming she voluntarily vacated the house as "totally false".
But the Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) overnight issued another statement saying the Cantonment Board authorities "extended her the due honour as she vacated the house extending her cooperation in executing the court verdict through vacating voluntarily the house".