11/13/2013, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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As Bangladesh's political crisis deepens, people are endangered and poverty spreads

by Sumon Corraya
Violent strikes (hartal) by the country's main political parties have paralysed the country's economy. The latest episode has left 20 people dead and dozens badly burnt. As vegetable prices rise, unsold milk turns sour. Meanwhile, opposition leader Khaleda Zia and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina continue their tug-of-war ahead of next year's elections.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Bangladesh's political instability is threatening the survival of ordinary people. As a form of protest, general strikes (hartal) by the main parties are leading to clashes and violence. As time goes by, this is crippling the economy.

One example is the latest strike by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition party, which is now on its fourth day.

Since it began, 20 people have died and 30 people have suffered severe burns. Farmers have also been prevented from bringing their produce to market because of road blocks and attacks.

Al-Amin, a lorry driver, suffered burns to 30 per cent of his body during the recent strike and is in hospital in critical condition at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The fire also burnt his throat. Monir, 14, died trapped in his father's lorry, which some protesters had set on fire.

In addition to life and limb, people now fear for their pockets. According to estimates by the Bangladesh Milk Producers' Cooperative Union, a one-day strike meant that about 400,900 litres of milk went bad or had to be sold at bargain price to prevent it from going sour.

For this reason, at least 100,500 dairies in recent months have not been able to sell their products on a regular basis, and about 5,000 lorry drivers have not been paid.

The same goes for vegetables. As deliveries decline, markets receive less and less produce, and the few who have been able to sell ask for prices that few ordinary people can afford.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, the main political parties continue their tug-of-war.

Yesterday, Prime Minister and Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina said during a rally in Gopalganj that "one day" BNP leader Khaleda Zia must assume responsibility for the victims of recent strikes.

The latest strike has the same reason as previous ones. Zia wants a caretaker government, independent of political parties and with members not planning to run for office, to organise the general elections set for January 2014, a request Prime Minister Hasina has ignored.

In 2011, she changed the law so that an independent cabinet would not be mandatory, but remains committed to setting up a caretaker government with representatives from all sides, which she would chair, to prepare the elections.

Two days ago, Hasina asked her ministers to resign, which they promptly did.

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