11/23/2005, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Rally draws 100,000 people calling for the government to resign

Participants at the rally organised by opposition parties level harsh criticism against the ruling coalition government, accusing it of complicity with growing Islamist fanaticism in the country. The government tries to disrupt the event and denies all allegations.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina accused the current government of aiding Islamist militants and driving the country into extreme poverty. She levelled the charges at a rally organised by 14 opposition parties that drew more 100,000 people at Dhaka's Paltan Maidan. Participants called on the government to resign demanding the establishment of a secular democratic government ahead of next year's general elections.

The authorities deployed vast number of security forces, ostensibly to protect the rally, but in fact for the purpose of disrupting the event several ways: police stopped demonstrators at check points both within and without the city; groups of men from the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) clashed with protesters near the rallying point; trade union leaders close to the government organised a general strike in an attempt to keep away as many people as possible.

At the Paltan Maidan, the opposition, which includes the Awami League (AL), the left 11-party alliance, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) and National Awami Party (NAP), unveiled a 23-point common programme to save the country from "fundamentalism and corruption".

More specifically, the manifesto calls for the separation of the judiciary from the executive branch of government, investigating the recent spate of terror attacks in the country, make state-owned media more independent from politics and reform social welfare programmes.

"The government has proved its inability to govern the country. . . . There is no security in public life and people don't want such failed rulers to continue any more," Hasina said. "It crippled the economy, ruined the judiciary, patronised criminals, their godfathers and Islamist militants, and employed the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to persecute opposition workers".

"What did your special forces do when 500 bombs exploded across the country simultaneously or militants were killing judges?" she rhetorically asked.

"The days are not far when people will resist the hands dealing blows to opposition leaders and workers," she said in a warning directed at the current government under Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

According to the former Prime Minister, 26,000 people have been killed in the last four years of coalition rule. Even children, women, and journalists have not been spared. Moreover, sources told AsiaNews that the government is beholden to Islamic fundamentalists and is not interested in uncovering the truth about the recent violence.

The government has however rejected the charges. Before the foreign press and the international community, the authorities persistently deny the allegations, portraying instead Bangladesh as a country spared by fundamentalism and terrorism, open to foreign investments.

The same thing happened last Monday in London at the release of a report on extremism in Bangladesh by the European Human Rights Conference on Bangladesh.

Lord Avebury, vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and chairman of the International Bangladesh Foundation, presided over the event.

Representatives of Bangladesh's ethnic and religious minorities provided examples of the type of persecution they endure and called on the government to act immediately against.

By contrast, the government delegation denied all allegations and instead accused the organisers of the event of trying to harm the reputation of the country.

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