The Bangladeshi opposition party demands the resignation of the prime minister

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the Bangladeshi capital on Saturday to demand Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government appoint a caretaker leader ahead of the next general election, which is due to be held in early 2024.

Supporters of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party reached the Dhaka protest site overnight amid tight security, while Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan warned of dire consequences for the protest.

Hasina and her ruling Awami League party, which returned to power for a third term in 2018, have repeatedly rejected the opposition’s demand, saying the interim government is against the spirit of the country’s constitution.

The venue in Dhaka’s Golapbagh filled up by Saturday morning and crowds took to the streets as opposition activists chanted slogans such as “With Le Hasina” and “We want fair elections”.

Saturday’s demonstration was the tenth by the main opposition party after it announced in September that it would hold protests in 10 major cities across the country. All previous protests outside Dhaka have drawn huge crowds despite challenges, including politically motivated transport strikes and intimidation by security agencies and the ruling party. Both the police and the ruling party denied such accusations.

See also  China says India's border is stable, contrary to Indian views

The rally in Dhaka came amid heightened tensions after police stormed the party’s headquarters following clashes between police and opposition supporters on Wednesday that left at least one person dead and 50 injured. The police arrested more than 400 opposition activists.

On Friday, investigators raided the homes of two senior party leaders, including general secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. Both were denied bail.

Zahiruddin Swapan, a former two-time opposition lawmaker and party spokesman, told The Associated Press that by Saturday afternoon, about 1.5 million opposition supporters had joined the rally.

“We want free and fair elections. To facilitate this, the oppressive government must go, parliament must be dissolved and a new electoral commission must be set up,” he said. “They came to power through vote fraud and intimidation.”

Faruk Hossain, a spokesman for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told the AP that the venue could hold a maximum of 30,000 people, and if the neighboring streets were taken into account, the demonstration could not have attracted more than 60,000 people.

See also  As Mexico City mourns slain anti-gang leader, brother warns community will take up arms again

According to eyewitnesses, 100,000 opposition activists joined the demonstration.

An election-time transitional government system to oversee national elections was introduced into the constitution in 1996, but was invalidated by a constitutional amendment under Hasina in 2011 and after the Supreme Court ruled that the system was unconstitutional.

The BNP boycotted the elections in 2014, and the results of the 2018 vote were disputed due to allegations of vote-rigging by the ruling party, which won with an overwhelming majority.

On Saturday, seven representatives of the BNP announced at the general assembly that they would resign from the parliament.

Fifteen Western embassies issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling on the government to allow freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and fair elections, and the United Nations issued a similar statement a day later.

Bangladeshi politics is polarized: Hasina and Zia are the most influential archivists. Although the country is a parliamentary democracy, it has a history of violent coups and counter-coups.

See also  Pope, a large crowd celebrates Easter in the flower-decorated Vatican Square