Friday, December 22, 2006

Army employed to tackle Hartal after 16 years -100 injured

The Jatiya Party (Ershad), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and some Islamic parties at a grand rally on December 18 formally joined hands with the 14-party alliance. From that rally, they called the dawn-to-dusk hartal, demanding Iajuddin's resignation as the CA and immediate measures to create a level playing field before the upcoming general election.

Following the hartal yesterday, for the first time, since restoration of democracy through a mass upsurge in 1990, the government that too a caretaker employed the army to tackle political demonstrations in the city and elsewhere in the country. Deployed on December 9, following a unilateral decision of President and Chief Adviser (CA) Iajuddin Ahmed, the armed forces swung into action to disperse the pickets in Dhaka yesterday. The troops chased off supporters of the 14-party combine and its allies as the latter clashed with the police, damaged a couple of vehicles and set fire to another car in Shyamoli in the morning. Alongside the law enforcers, the military were on patrol across the city during the hartal hours. The BNP, however, stood up for the army's role, saying it is part of their [military] responsibilities to foil attempts to create anarchy.

The CA on December 13 ordered the army to be on standby and not to engage actively in routine law enforcement, but the home ministry did not issue any directives to the field level administrations in line with the decision, said sources. Meanwhile, CA Iajuddin Ahmed yesterday claimed that all conditions set by some political parties for participation in the upcoming election have been met, talking to the European Union delegation. Sticking to his stance on the army deployment, the CA told them that the armed forces have been deployed in aid of the law enforcement agencies to create and maintain an atmosphere congenial to free and fair election.

This time, the military deployment came 43 days before the polling day, which is January 22 according to the current schedule. In previous instances, the army was deployed only 14 days before the election in 2001, 18 days in 1996, and 23 days before the polls in 1991.

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