Thursday, January 11, 2007

Police roughshod over blockaders during Bangabhaban siege

Maul senior grand alliance leaders unprovoked; pickets retaliate by throwing hand bombs; country remains paralysed

Five top leaders of the Awami League (AL)-led grand alliance were injured as police assaulted them while using brute force to disperse alliance activists and leaders from around the Bangabhaban during a siege of it yesterday that triggered violent clashes between the law enforcers and the demonstrators. Policemen in riot gear brutally assaulted the leaders at Noor Hossain Square and fired teargas shells inside the AL central office on Bangabandhu Avenue during the siege that was also marked by police-demonstrators pitched battles in Fakirerpool and Joykali temple area. The leaders -- Tofail Ahmed, Rashed Khan Menon, Nurul Islam, Dilip Barua and Haji Mohammad Selim -- fell to the ground due to the police beating without any let up in two to three minutes. A ferocious attack by AL activists using brickbats and homemade bombs forced the police to retreat at least 50 metres and the activists rescued the injured leaders.

Besides, at least 50 demonstrators and policemen were wounded in clashes during the siege of the president's office on the last day of the alliance's three-day countrywide blockade demanding resignation of Iajuddin Ahmed from the post of chief adviser and announcement of a new schedule for the general election after 'proper updating' of the voter list. The Bangabhaban was cordoned off by a heavy security net comprising several thousand police, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) personnel. Five truckloads of army also patrolled around it frequently as the demonstrators chanted slogans like 'army-janata bhai bhai, Iajuddiner fanshi chai'. Police and BDR stood in several lines on the roads leading to the Bangabhaban from Dainik Bangla intersection, and from Paltan to Bangabandhu Avenue. Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) had already imposed a ban on squatting around the Bangabhaban to prevent a siege of it.

This situation followed arrest of one Awami Jubo Mohila League activist from a procession that attempted to stage a sit-in beside police barricades near Noor Hossain Square. Alliance activists then hurled dozens of handmade bombs and volleys of brickbats from both ends of Bangabandhu Avenue at riot police. Police then launched an all out attack on the activists forcing them into the AL office and to flee through Golap Shah Mazar area. Police also fired a large number of tear gas shells, at least two of those into the AL office. AL activists retaliated by pelting brickbats and handmade bombs from the roofs of adjoining buildings. A section of alliance activists at the rear of the procession started hurling brickbats and homemade bombs, prompting police to go for indiscriminate beating of anyone before them.

The senior leaders, hoping they would be spared, stood still. But police became more aggressive as alliance activists continued to hurl brickbats. Police then swooped on the leaders and bashed them with batons even after they had fallen to the ground. Following the police clubbing, several hundred demonstrators darted out to the main road and different alleyways in Fakirerpool and started raining brickbats on the law enforcers. Police fired more than 100 teargas shells and rubber bullets on the demonstrators. At least 20 people including some policemen were wounded as the fighting continued till 2:45pm. Police picked up at least 30 leaders and activists from the spot.