Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka witnessed violent clashes between police and opposition protesters on Saturday, as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies intensified their demand for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down and pave the way for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the next general election, expected in early 2023.
Tens of thousands of BNP supporters rallied in Dhaka on Friday, accusing Hasina’s Awami League (AL) government of authoritarianism, corruption, and failing to tackle inflation. The BNP also demanded that the next election be held under a caretaker government, a system that was scrapped by the AL government in 2011 following a Supreme Court verdict.
On Saturday, the opposition protesters blockaded major roads and highways in and around Dhaka, disrupting traffic and transport links with other parts of the country. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons to disperse the crowds, resulting in injuries on both sides and dozens of arrests. At least 20 police officers were injured and about 90 protesters were detained. Some senior BNP leaders, including Goyeshwar Roy and Amanullah Aman, were also taken into custody by the police.
The opposition protests have become more frequent and larger since the beginning of the year, with rallies this month attracting tens of thousands of people. The BNP, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is currently in jail on corruption charges that she denies, has been out of power since 2009, when Hasina’s AL came to power with a landslide victory. The BNP boycotted the 2014 election, alleging that it was rigged by the AL. The 2018 election was marred by allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation, and violence, which the AL denied.
Hasina has refused to resign or agree to the opposition’s demand for a caretaker government, saying that it is unconstitutional and that the next election will be held under her government as per the law. The AL has also accused the BNP of trying to create anarchy and instability in the country by resorting to violence and vandalism.
The political standoff between the two major parties has raised concerns about the future of democracy and stability in Bangladesh, a country of more than 160 million people that has been praised for its economic growth and social development in recent years.