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Opposition-Sponsored Strike Shuts Down Bangladesh

  • Anjana Pasricha

Bangladesh Nationalist Party office secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi and other activists try to resist as police push back a march during a strike in Dhaka, February 07, 2011

In Bangladesh, scores of protesters have been injured in a nationwide strike called by the main opposition party, which is demanding early elections.

The demonstrators were injured in clashes with police, which used water canons and batons to disperse opposition activists enforcing a countrywide strike in the capital, Dhaka.

Several buses had been set on fire the previous night. Thousands of riot police were deployed in the city, but few people ventured outdoors. Schools and colleges were shut, and transport did not role. Life was also paralyzed across smaller towns in the country.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party called the nationwide strike to capitalize on widespread anger over two issues. Food inflation has hit 11 percent among fears it may rise, and the stock market has lost about one quarter of its value this year. That has been a huge blow to many ordinary investors.

A top official of the ruling Awami League party, Abdul Jalil, says the government is doing its best to address issues that are causing popular discontent.

"The government will definitely try to control everything within their reach, the government will control price hike and other problems," Jalil said.

The opposition party says it is also protesting controversial plans by the government to build a new airport south of Dhaka. But following violent protests by local villagers, the government has already announced the airport will be built at another site.

The opposition is demanding the government call early elections, which are scheduled to be held after two years. But that is not likely to happen. Ruling party officials say the opposition-led strike will not shake the government.

BNP officials however have warned of a sustained campaign against the government.

The BNP suffered a crushing defeat in the 2008 general elections, but its confidence is buoyed after it fared well in civic polls held recently.

The nationwide strike was the third the opposition has called in recent months. General strikes have frequently been used by political parties in Bangladesh to pressure the government.