NEW DELHI: Three people were killed in Bangladesh on Sunday after clashes broke out between supporters of the main opposition BNP and the ruling Awami League during a nationwide general strike, raising tensions in the country ahead of the general elections expected in January.According to media reports, several passenger buses were damaged or set on fire in Dhaka and elsewhere throughout the day.The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former premier Khaleda Zia, had called a countrywide strike on Sunday to protest the police action that forced the party to abruptly end its grand rally a day earlier. One policeman was killed in the Saturday rally that was organised by the BNP, which has demanded the resignation of prime minister Sheikh Hasina to allow free and fair elections under a non-party interim government. BNP senior leader arrestedEarlier in the day, police arrested several BNP leaders including party de facto chief Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir over the policeman’s death.”We have taken him (Alamgir) to our custody for subsequent legal actions,” a spokesman of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s detective branch told reporters.Alamgir’s wife Rahat Ara said the police initially visited their home, and left with a hard disk containing CCTV footage from their house and building. They later returned and took Alamgir, 75, into custody. “He (Fakhrul) is very ill,” the wife said.BNP spokesman Zahir Uddin Swapan said police also made a series of raids on the homes of senior party leaders and claimed nearly 3,000 party activists and supporters have been detained.BNP calls for countrywide blockadeThe BNP has now called for a “countrywide blockade” on October 31, November 1 and 2 protesting the killing of the party activists and the arrests of party leaders and activists, including Alamgir.
BNP senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi made the announcement at a virtual press briefing, reiterating the party’s demand for elections under an interim government.West keeping close watchCritics have accused Hasina, in power since 2009, of authoritarianism, election rigging and rights violations including jailing of opponents. She denies the charges.The European Union and the United States have denounced the violence on Saturday and urged all to maintain restraint.The EU delegation in Dhaka said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that it is “deeply saddened to see the loss of life” while stressing that a peaceful way forward was crucial.The US assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, called for calm and restraint saying they “will review all violent incidents for possible visa restrictions.”Decades-long rivalryThe rivalry between Hasina and Zia has been ongoing for decades, and Hasina’s government has been under pressure for months as the opposition has held largely peaceful anti-government demonstrations.Hasina hopes to return to power for a fourth consecutive term and says the election should be held under her government’s supervision as specified in the constitution amid a warning by the US of possible visa restrictions for disrupting the election process. The visa restriction policy is primarily focused on law enforcement agencies, as well as the ruling and opposition parties.The prime minister recently told parliament that the US wants to remove her from power at any cost. However, the opposition and critics have welcomed the move by the US.