05/14/2012, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Some 200 protesters injured in protests over disappearances

by Nozrul Islam
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami protest the disappearance of BNP leader Ilias Ali, missing since 17 April. Human rights groups slam the government for the rising numbers of people going missing (22 this year, 53 since 2010), a practice the government is said to use to silence troublesome voices and contain dissent.

Chittagong (AsiaNews) - More than 200 people were injured in clashes in Chittagong on Sunday between opposition activists and the police over the disappearance of Ilias Ali, a leader in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the country's main opposition party.

Violence flared when BNP members attacked police, which used teargas and rubber bullets to stop the march by a BNP ally, the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party. Protesters set three cars on fire and damaged 50 motorcycles.

Police said they had to use force because they were attacked by disorderly activists. Eyewitnesses and protesters said the march was peaceful and got out of hand only when police intervened.

The rally had been announced some days ago as a protest against the disappearance of Ilias Ali, a member of the BNP national executive committee, who went missing on 17 April.

The event has cast another shadow on the current Bangladeshi government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, head of the Awami League.

For months, the government has been embroiled in corruption scandals involving leading members of the governing party.

The opposition BNP, led by Khaleda Zia, has tried to exploit the ruling party's trouble. In late April, it organised a five-day general strike against higher food price. One of its goals is also to establish a new caretaker government ahead of the 2014 presidential elections.

Ali's disappearance is part of a trend of people going missing. According to local human rights groups, 22 people went missing just this year, more than 50 since 2010. However, the real number could be higher.

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

Past history is telling when an inordinate number of criminals, big and small, and armed rebels suffered "heart attacks" during interrogation or died in shootouts as they tried to flee.

Today, the government seems to have opted to have people disappear. This is a more subtle and dangerous method to use against people for being "political nuisances" because they simply vanish.

Demonstrations and strike actions (hartal in Bengali) that hit on a regular basis places like Chittagong and other regions of the country could however be the undoing of the current administration.

After a long period of cold relations that followed their last election loss, yesterday's rally brought together the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami against a common enemy, Sheikh Hasina and the Awami league.

In fact, the BNP has abandoned its neutrality vis-à-vis the court case that saw the Jamaat-e-Islami's leadership arrested for its alleged involvement in war crimes dating back to the country's War of Independence in 1971.

Now the two old allies can ride the same wave of dissatisfaction unfolding across the country.

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