Tension rises in Bangladesh as polls anniversary protests turn violent

A pickup van is set on fire at Chittagong’s Kazir Dewri area on the first anniversary of the 10th general elections on Monday. Photo: suman babu/ bdnews24.com

(Reuters) – Four protesters were killed in clashes between activists of Bangladesh’s ruling party and opposition supporters on Monday and authorities cut off transport into Dhaka on the first anniversary of national polls themselves fraught by violence.

Despite police warnings, opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia refused to cancel Dhaka rallies planned to mark what her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has dubbed “democracy killing day”.

Khaleda, a former prime minister herself, has demanded fresh polls under a neutral administration, calling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government “undemocratic and illegal”.

The normally clogged streets of Dhaka were nearly empty on Monday afternoon, as authorities cut off bus, rail and ferry services into the city. Thousands of riot police were deployed in anticipation of more unrest.

“Security has been ramped up across the country, including Dhaka, to thwart any untoward incidents,” Dhaka district police chief Habibur Rahman told Reuters…

The Islamists, roughly akin to the Muslim Brotherhood, are furious that the seculars are in power (they boycotted the last election, held a year ago).

They are also angry over the war crimes trials of high-ranking participants in the 1971 war of liberation from Pakistan (the Islamists did not want to separate as it was seen as the first step towards a unified “ummah”). There has been considerable violence over the trials.  See more photos here.