05/17/2012, 00.00
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New general strike in Bangladesh against government's "unlawful" arrests

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) calls for the release of 33 of its leaders, taken into custody yesterday on arson charges that stem fast month's anti-government protests. For the BNP, the arrests are political, meant to hide the fact that the government is behind the disappearance of people.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the country's main opposition party, has called for a 24-hour general strike (hartal) to demand the release of 33 of its leaders arrested for arson in connection with last month's anti-government protests. The strike began at 6 am (local time). Ten BNP activists have suffered minor injuries in clashes with police.

According to the BNP, the arrest warrants were issued for "political reasons" in order to cast a shadow over "legitimate protests" against the disappearance of Ilias Ali. The former lawmaker and BNP organising secretary in Sylhet Division went missing on 17 April, which the BNP blames on the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, head of the Awami League.

In recent months, the government has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals, which BNP chief Khaleda Zia has tried to exploit.

As part of its anti-government strategy, the BNP organised a two-day march that ended up in clashes that left at least 200 people injured.

The fire that led to the arrest of 33 BNP leaders took place in late April, during a five-day general strike organised by the main opposition party to protest against rising prices and to demand that a caretaker government oversee the next presidential elections in 2014.

More broadly, Ali's disappearance is part of a trend of missing people. According to local human rights groups, 22 people have disappeared just this year.

After people suffered "heart attacks" during interrogation or died in shootouts trying to flee, the government now seems to have opted to stifle dissent by having people disappear.

Such occurrences appear to be symptomatic of the inability of the country's parties, both in government and opposition, to step back from the rising tide of violence and accept open and free debate and exchange.

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