Bangladesh opposition names Khaleda Zia’s son acting leader

Bangladesh security personnel stand guard at the entrance of the special court, which convicted opposition leader Khaleda Zia of corruption and sentenced her to five years in jail. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Bangladesh opposition names Khaleda Zia’s son acting leader

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition party named the exiled eldest son of Khaleda Zia as its acting head on Friday, a day after a court jailed its leader for corruption.
Zia, 72, spent the night in jail after she was sentenced to five years over the embezzlement of $252,000 meant for an orphanage, a charge she has dismissed as politically motivated.
Her son Tarique Rahman, who was also found guilty of involvement in but escaped prison because he lives in London, will be the party’s interim leader.
“He is the new acting chairman in accordance with the party’s constitution,” Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said.
The conviction could prevent Zia from running in a general election slated for December, although she is expected to appeal.
She spent the night in what her party officials say is a disused jail in the old part of Dhaka.
“She is in isolation,” said Alamgir, adding that her conviction is “part of a government blueprint to establish one-party rule.”
Rahman, 53, fled to London in 2008 after he was detained by an army-backed government for more than 18 months.
In 2016, he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of money laundering.
Prosecutors have also sought his death sentence over a 2004 grenade attack at a rally of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in which more than 20 people were killed and she was injured.
The BNP plans to stage nationwide demonstrations late Friday afternoon in protest at the verdict.
Alamgir said opposition parties had been barred from holding protests and alleged curbs on media freedom by the government.
Violence erupted in major cities across Bangladesh as news of the guilty verdict spread on Thursday, with BNP supporters clashing with police and activists from the ruling party.
Police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators in the northeastern city of Sylhet. At least four people have been injured in the clashes.
Authorities have for days been on high alert for protests in tense Dhaka, where political demonstrations by BNP and its Islamist allies in 2014 and 2015 left nearly 200 people dead.
Around 3,500 opposition activists and officials were arrested in a sweep by security forces ahead of the verdict, according to the BNP.
Zia is a former ally turned arch-foe of Hasina. Her party boycotted 2014 polls in which Hasina was re-elected but is expected to contest the upcoming general election.


Flood death toll in India’s Kerala jumps to 164

Updated 9 min 10 sec ago
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Flood death toll in India’s Kerala jumps to 164

  • More than 10,000 kilometers of roads and hundreds of homes have been destroyed or damaged across the state
  • A heavy rainfall “red-alert” has been issued across much of the state, which is home to around 33 million people

KOCHI: The death toll from major floods in India’s tourist hotspot Kerala has jumped to 164, state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Friday, issuing a fresh heavy rainfall warning for the battered region.

Kerala’s government has described the crisis — one of the worst in decades — as “extremely grave” and rescue operations are underway to help thousands who remain trapped by floodwaters.

“The chief minister has confirmed 164 deaths. Around 100 people died in the last 36 hours alone,” an official in the Kerala government’s public relations department said.

Local reports indicated an even higher toll with thousands still waiting for relief and rescue across the flood-ravaged state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that he had discussed the flood situation with Vijayan as more troops and rescue workers were deployed across Kerala.

“Later this evening, I will be heading to Kerala to take stock of the unfortunate situation,” Modi said on Twitter.

The state, famed for its palm-lined beaches and tea plantations, is always pummeled by the annual monsoon but this year’s damage has been the most severe in almost a century.

More than 150,000 people made homeless across the state have moved into some 1,300 relief camps.

Vijayan’s office Friday posted a fresh warning for around 33 million residents of Kerala.

“Alert: all districts apart from Kasargod are under red alert... heavy rains may affect these 13 districts. Everyone please be cautious,” his office tweeted.

Even before the latest warning, locals like Ajo Varghese have been posting desperate appeals for relief and rescue on social media.

“My family and neighboring families are in trouble with flood in Pandanad nakkada area in Alappuzha,” Varghese said in a viral Facebook post.

“No water and food. Not able to communicate from afternoon. Mobile phones are not reachable and switch off. Please help... No rescue is available,” he added.

A state official said that apart from the new rainfall warnings, a breakdown of the local communication system was making it difficult for them to reach local people who may be in urgent need in the worst-affected areas.

The government says 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) of Kerala roads have been destroyed or damaged and tens of thousands of homes partially or completely damaged.

The gates of at least 34 major dams and reservoirs across the state have been opened in the last few days as water levels reached danger levels.

North and central Kerala has been worst-hit by the floods with the international airport in main city of Kochi shut until at least August 26.