Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

Bangladeshi policewomen stand guard outside the office of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). (AP file photo)
Updated 10 December 2018
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Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

  • Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s opposition party Sunday said nearly 2,000 of its supporters have been arrested on trumped-up charges in a crackdown aimed at derailing its campaign just weeks from a general election.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is seeking to unseat Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 30, said at least 1,972 party officials and grassroots campaigners had been detained since the election was announced a month ago.
The arrests are yet another blow for a beleaguered opposition whose leader Khaleda Zia has been jailed for corruption and barred from running against arch-rival Hasina, who is seeking a third consecutive term.
The opposition boycotted the 2014 election, saying it was rigged against Zia in favor of Hasina and her ruling Awami League party.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed told AFP the majority of party cadres rounded up since late November in the police sweep were still behind bars.
“They have filed hundreds of ghost, or fictitious cases, against our party workers and leaders,” he said.
Another party official said at least 11 opposition candidates had also been detained before official campaigning begins Monday.
“Six of them are still in the jail,” said the official, who declined to be named.
Police have said those arrested had outstanding warrants or were wanted over alleged connections to ongoing cases.
Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents.
“The government wants to hold a lopsided election. These arrests are just to create fear among the people, so that they don’t go to vote,” he said.
The opposition also accused police officials in Chittagong, a southern city, of campaigning on behalf of the Awami League. Police in the port city denied the allegations.
The arrests further hinder an already battered alliance of opposition parties, led by the BNP, which have seen their core leadership jailed on charges they say are fabricated.
Zia, a two-time former prime minister and friend-turned-foe to Hasina, was last month ordered by a court to stay behind bars for a decade for graft.
Her supporters say the charges are politically motivated to stymie Hasina’s chief political threat.
Zia’s son, a potential heir to the BNP throne, was sentenced in absentia to life behind bars while hundreds of other loyalists have been arrested or jailed, party officials say.
Just a month from the polls, the BNP has not announced an alternative candidate to run against Hasina, whose rule has been marred by allegations of rights abuses and intolerance for dissent.
Bangladesh has been led by either Zia or Hasina since the 1990s and the two powerful women have turned from close allies to fierce enemies.
Hasina has refused to allow a caretaker government to oversee the country during the campaign period.


Police fire tear gas as Greeks rally over Macedonia name deal

Updated 19 min 26 sec ago
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Police fire tear gas as Greeks rally over Macedonia name deal

  • Many Greeks believe the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over their country's own northern region of that name

ATHENS: Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters outside parliament on Sunday as tens of thousands of Greeks rallied in Athens to protest against a name deal with Macedonia.
Central Athens turned into a sea of people holding blue and white Greek flags as thousands came from all over the country to rally against the accord to name the ex-Yugoslav state North Macedonia.
Many Greeks believe the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over their country's own northern region of that name.
The issue evokes strong emotions among Greeks who consider Macedonia, the ancient kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great, to be an integral part of their homeland and heritage.
The accord, signed by the two governments, unblocks the ex-Yugoslav republic's desire to join NATO and the European Union once ratified by Greece's parliament.
"We cannot stomach this deal, to give away our Macedonia, our history," said pensioner Amalia Savrami, 67, as she waved a large Greek flag on Athens's Syntagma Square.
"Macedonia is Greek, period."
Locals said the Athens rally was the largest in decades, easily outdoing rallies against austerity in previous years.
Macedonia declared independence in 1991, avoiding the violence that accompanied much of the break-up of Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to accelerate the country's bid to join the EU and NATO and to work on resolving the decades-old name dispute with Greece.
Greece had agreed that until the name dispute is resolved, its northern neighbour, with a population of about 2 million, could be referred to internationally as "FYROM" - Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. That is the name under which it was admitted to the United Nations in 1993.
Settling the issue would be hailed as a success by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose left-right coalition came to power in 2015. He won a confidence motion this month after the junior partner in his coalition pulled out.
The agreement with Skopje had strained relations with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, his coalition ally, which objected to the use of Macedonia in any agreed name.