Bangladesh to set election date as opposition cries foul

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, second right, sits in a rare dialogue with opposition party in Dhaka on November 1. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018

Bangladesh to set election date as opposition cries foul

  • Chief election commissioner Nurul Huda will address the nation live to announce the date
  • The vote in the South Asian country of 165 million people is likely to be held in late December

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities were set to announce later Thursday a date for general elections despite the opposition crying foul and threatening protests.
Chief election commissioner Nurul Huda will address the nation live at 7:00p.m. to announce the date, spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman said.
The vote in the South Asian country of 165 million people is likely to be held in late December although the opposition wants it pushed back to March.
The opposition also wants parliament to be dissolved first and for a neutral caretaker government to take office, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has rejected the demands.
The opposition, including the main Bangladesh Nationalist Party, fears the election will be rigged if Hasina remains in power while the vote is held.
The BNP boycotted the last elections in 2014 over fears it would be rigged by Hasina. A majority of parliamentary seats were then won by Hasina’s party unopposed.
The boycott triggered widespread violence across the Muslim majority country, leaving dozens of people dead and hundreds of voting booths vandalized.
The ruling Awami League party and main opposition alliance, the Jatiya Oikya Front, held two rounds of discussions at Hasina’s residence in the past week.
But they appeared to end in failure with the deputy leader of the ruling party Obaidul Quader telling reporters that dissolving parliament was unconstitutional.
“There is no scope to go beyond the constitution. We’ve conveyed that clearly,” he said.
The opposition would not say that the talks had ended in failure but they stressed their struggle would continue. They also want the election commission to defer its announcement.
“We are still in movement,” opposition spokesman Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said.
They have threatened street protests and marches in major cities and in front of the commission.
The 2014 violence prompted a massive crackdown by Hasina’s government, which arrested thousands of BNP officials and confined BNP leader Khaleda Zia at her home for weeks.
In recent months, the BNP’s strength was further weakened after Zia was convicted and sentenced to 10 and seven years in jail in two separate cases of corruption.
Her eldest son and heir apparent Tarique Rahman, who lives in exile in London, was also sentenced to life in prison over a 2004 grenade attack targeting Hasina.
Analysts say despite the rejection of its key demand by Hasina and amid mounting fears of a rigged polls, BNP has no choice but to participate in the election.
A no-show could result in cancelation of its party registration, they say.

ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

Updated 27 min 29 sec ago

ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

  • The scene outside the General Santander police academy in southern Bogota was chaotic in the immediate aftermath of the explosion

BOGOTA: Colombia’s ELN rebel group was responsible for the car bomb attack against a police academy that killed at least 21 and injured dozens, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said on Friday.

In Thursday’s attack, which the government described as an act of terrorism, the car broke through checkpoints into the grounds of the General Santander School before it detonated, shattering windows of apartments nearby.

The National Liberation Army (ELN), made up of some 2,000 fighters and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, began peace talks with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos February 2017 but they have been put on hold by President Ivan Duque.

The country’s defense ministry had previously reported 11 dead and 65 injured. Colombia’s government declared three days of mourning Thursday after the attack.

The defense ministry said the “terrorist act” was carried out using a vehicle packed with 80 kilograms (around 175 pounds) of explosives.

“All Colombians reject terrorism and we’re united in fighting it,” President Ivan Duque tweeted in the aftermath.

Later in a statement to the nation, he said he had ordered reinforcements to Colombia’s borders and routes in and out of cities.

“I have also requested that priority be given to all the investigations ... to identify the masterminds of this terrorist attack and their accomplices,” he said.

The bomber — who authorities confirmed was killed in the attack — struck at the General Francisco de Paula Santander Officer’s School in the south of Bogota during a promotion ceremony for cadets.

No group has claimed responsibility, but public prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez named suspect Jose Aldemar Rojas Rodriguez as the “material author of this abominable crime.”

Martinez said Rojas Rodriguez entered the school compound at 9:30 a.m. driving a grey 1993 Nissan Patrol truck, but gave no details about the explosion.

He said the truck underwent an inspection in July in the Arauco department on the border with Venezuela — a traditional stronghold of ELN Marxist guerrillas.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said one of the dead was an Ecuadoran cadet, while a second suffered light injuries.

“The brutal act of terrorism in Bogota took the life of a compatriot,” Moreno said on Twitter.

“My sincerest thoughts go to the family, friends and companions of Erika Chico.”

Meanwhile, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said that 45 Panamanian cadets were present during the attack, with two injured.

Fanny Contreras, the Colombian armed forces’ health inspector, told local radio that the truck “entered (the school compound) suddenly, almost hitting the police, and then there was the explosion.”

Carol Oviedo said her brother Jonathan, a cadet, told her on the phone he had been injured, before the connection was cut.

“In two years since he joined the police, he’s never had to face a situation like this,” she said.

Like other families, she was lingering in the vicinity of the academy hoping to hear some news.

United States assistant secretary of state in charge of Latin America, Kimberly Breier condemned the attack and said: “Our condolences and sympathies go to the victims and family members of those killed.”

The US embassy in Bogota offered its “help in investigating this reprehensible attack.”

Rosalba Jimenez, 62, was opening her confectionary store near the school when the bomb went off.

“When we turned to look at the school the sky was grey with smoke. People were running, sirens... horrible, horrible, it seemed like the end of the world,” Jimenez said.

Authorities sealed off the area to the press and increased security service patrols in the south of the city, AFP reporters said.

Right-wing Duque, who assumed power in August, has peddled a tough line against Marxist rebels and drug traffickers in the largest cocaine producer in the world.

Peace talks with ELN guerrillas — who in the past have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on police — stalled before Duque replaced Juan Manuel Santos as president, and have not been restarted.

Duque has made several demands, including the release of all hostages, as prerequisites to kick-starting the peace process, but the ELN has dismissed those as unacceptable.

After the 2016 peace accord signed by Santos and FARC guerrillas, turning the former rebels into a political party, the ELN is considered the last active rebel group in a country that has suffered more than half a century of conflict.

That cycle of violence has also involved paramilitaries, drug traffickers and other Marxist rebels, including FARC dissidents.

A year ago, six police died and 40 were injured in an attack on a police station in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla that was claimed by the ELN.

In February 2017, the ELN claimed responsibility for an attack on a police patrol in the Macarena neighborhood of Bogota that left one officer dead and several seriously wounded.

In June, three people — including a Frenchwoman — were killed and nine others wounded in an attack on a Bogota shopping mall that authorities blamed on a fringe left-wing group called the Revolutionary People’s Movement.