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Big city, bright lights, shutters wide shut in Dhaka

The 13th SAARC summit is one festival in Dhaka where the participation of the teeming millions of Dhaka has been barred.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2005 12:35 IST

If for the delegates, the seven heads of states and hordes of media personnel who have descended for the SAARC summit, Dhaka looks like a big city with sparkling roads, fountains and bright lights, for its residents it has become a forbidden city.

The 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, which began on Saturday, is one festival in Dhaka where the participation of the teeming millions of Dhaka has been barred.

"Look outside. The shops are all closed. And they would continue to remain closed for the next two days. We are facing the heat of the SAARC summit," said a cabbie in Dhaka, a bit peeved at the state-sponsored shutdown to ensure full-proof security to the visitors.

"We can hardly move in the city and in the name of security people are being harassed," said a Dhaka shopkeeper.

The over 10-km stretch of the VIP Road from the Zia International Airport to Hotel Sheraton, where the heads of states are staying, and Hotel Sonargaon, where the media centre has been set up, shops are all closed for security reasons.

The sanitised roads apart, the government has also enforced a closure of the capital's largest wholesale market, the Karwan Bazar, for four days, reportedly causing the business community to incur a loss of nearly taka 1.5 billion each day as no alternative arrangement has been made for them.

The Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) has asked the Karwan Bazar wholesale market shopkeepers and other adjacent marketplaces to keep shut from Nov 10-13 to ensure stringent security for the summit.

City dwellers are feeling the heat of price rise owing to the closure of Karwan Bazar, the lifeline of Dhaka's wholesale business. Prices of many vegetables increased by 20 to 40 per cent within a couple of days due to supply shortage.

While for many people of Dhaka, a three-day-long holiday -- Sunday has been declared a holiday owing to SAARC along with the usual weekend holidays of Friday and Saturday -- could have been fun, the fact that people's movement has been restricted came as a spoilsport.

"The people are not very angry with the restrictions because they wanted the SAARC summit to be held here. But they are unhappy that they cannot go out and enjoy as entry has been restricted in many areas of the city," said Farzand Ahmed, a Dhaka resident.

People who have gone outside Dhaka for the Eid holiday are not returning to the capital just to avoid harassment by the security personnel.

The security measures can be best summed up by the clichéd word "unprecedented".

But for the visitors, Dhaka till November 13 is a city of lights, sound bytes and diplomatic actions.

First Published: Nov 12, 2005 12:35 IST