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.


UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

A European flag and a British Union flag hang outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

  • May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds
  • May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success”

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.
Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.
But there was no sign of a breakthrough, and the government faces a deadline of the end of Tuesday to decide whether they have enough votes to pass the deal, so that a vote can be held on Wednesday.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success.”
May is likely to ask for a delay to Brexit at the Brussels summit. If a deal is approved, she says she will ask the EU to extend the deadline until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that would mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament — something the government is keen to avoid.
May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.
Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.
Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.
“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.
After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.
EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.
“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?“
Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.
Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the UK vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.