06/05/2008, 00.00
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Government "fears" behind mass arrests in Bangladesh

by Nozrul Islam
The sweeping anti-crime operation, with almost 12,000 arrests, could be concealing the interim government's intention to "eliminate" political adversaries and discourage new street protests. Popular discontent over inflation is growing.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - The sweeping anti-crime operation underway in Bangladesh, instead of being a sign of an attempt to halt organised crime, could be an indication of the weakness of the interim government, which is growing less popular by the day.

Authorities say that the massive operation has led to the arrest of about 12,000 people in one week.  According to the head of the national police, Nur Mohammad, the operation, which began on May 28 and could be concluded by the end of June, is aimed at improving security in the country in view of the December elections.

But the harshness of the operation has raised doubts among the main political parties in Bangladesh: the Awami League of Sheikh Hasina Wajed and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Khaleda Zia.  Both are accusing the interim government of using the operation to provide cover for a campaign of arrests against potential political adversaries, and to prevent anti-government protests.  Since the provisional government - supported by the army - took power in January, 2007, 150 leading political figures have been arrested, and dozens of former ministers and members of parliament have been sentenced.  If this were the case, it would be a significant sign of the government's insecurity, and its need to resort to methods used in the past by democratically elected governments as well.

The provisional government (and the army) are getting a whiff of popular protests due mainly to dissatisfaction over inflation.  These protests could become serious and could lead to the country's paralysis, even worse than when the state of emergency was declared last year, and even worse than when the Ershad government was overthrown.

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