Dhaka, Dec 10 (EFE).- Thousands of supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the principle opposition, on Saturday gathered in Dhaka for a mass protest against rising commodity prices and demanding the release of their top leadership, apart from calling for the government’s resignation.
Arriving from different parts of the city and country, the protesters gathered at a venue in eastern Dhaka designated by the authorities after they had rejected other proposed sites for the rally.
“Till now, more than one million people have already gathered in the meeting venue and its adjacent roads and neighboring areas. Still people are approaching the meeting place in spite of barricades in several places,” the BNP claimed in a media release at 12.30 pm
The police, which has not released attendance figures for the event, is on high alert after protests have turned violent in recent days, with at least one BNP member killed and dozens wounded on Wednesday as riot police dispersed a protest in front of a party office in the capital.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesperson Faruk Hossain told EFE that “enough police” had been deployed in the city to avoid untoward incidents and “so far everything is peaceful.”
BNP supporters arrived at the venue on foot, forming long processions, or in autorikshaws, as public transport was suspended due to the rally.
An attendee, Shoriful Islam, told EFE that he used an autorikshaw as a precaution to “dodge the ruling party supporters and police on the streets,” and reach the site.
Jamal Uddin, a leader of BNP’s youth wing Juba Dal in the central Shariatpur district, said that 5,000 leaders of the party had arrived from their areas defying many obstacles and intimidation.
“Police were raiding the houses of many our leaders and activists since Dec. 4. Even today they intercepted our people on the highway. We came to Dhaka a few days early and stayed with relatives,” he told EFE.
With much of the top BNP leadership having been imprisoned, it fell to the young leaders to lead the event with speeches in front of a massive crowd.
Moreover, all the seven BNP lawmakers in the parliament announced their resignation during the rally as a mark of protest.
The ruling Awami League enjoys a landslide majority in the parliament, after winning the 2018 elections amid allegations of fraud.
On Friday, the police had arrested BNP general secretary Mirza Fakhrul and standing committee member Mirza Abbas, hours before a Dhaka court rejected their bail petitions and sent them to prison.
Fakhrul is currently the top opposition leader in the absence of the party president, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and her exiled son Tarique Rahman.
Zia, who was given a 10-year jail term on a corruption charge, is banned from engaging in political activities or leaving the country after her conditional release in March on government orders.
The biggest opposition party has accused the government of resorting to arrests and intimidation to try and stop the mass rally, alleging that the police has arrested at least 1,400 members and leaders between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6. Around 300 people were arrested after Wednesday’s clashes.
Since BNP launched large-scale demonstrations in August, 11 of its leaders or supporters have been killed in clashes with the police and supporters of the Awami League, in an apparent escalation ahead of the next general elections, set to be held between December 2023 and January 2024. EFE