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Bangladesh's opposition calls for general strike..

Bangladesh's opposition party chairperson Khaleda Zia has announced a countrywide dawn-to-dusk general strike for June 27, during a massive rally in the capital Dhaka yesterday (May 19).
The general strike (hartal) was announced Bangladeshi Nationalist Party (BNP) leader, protesting tender-grabbing and extortions by government cronies; and demanding resolution of the ongoing water, gas, and electricity crises; resignation of the election commission; and cancellation of the recently signed treaties with India.
Urging the rallier to make the general strike successful, Khaleda said, "You wanted a programme for a movement, so here it is. I know movements bring sufferings for the people. But to get rid of the horrible pain this government is inflicting, you must make some sacrifices. We don't have any other option than a hartal, to protest in a peaceful legal way."
She alleged that the opposition is not being allowed to speak in the parliament, and their notices are not being heeded, adding, "The people will get an effective parliament if a new election is held after dissolving the present parliament."
In an immediate reaction to the announcement, ruling Awami League (AL) urged the opposition leader to withdraw it for the sake of the country's economic development.
"We request her to withdraw the announcement of hartal and other destructive programmes, as people want continuation of the current economic development. If not withdrawn, the people themselves will resist," AL joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said.
The rally at Paltan Maidan was organised by BNP, as the last in a series of such demonstrations in divisional headquarters.
By announcing the shutdown, the main opposition leader re-introduced the highly criticised "hartal culture" in the country's political arena after a three-year gap.
The last time a hartal was observed on October 28, 2006 by the then opposition party AL, 12 persons were killed across the country. The last time BNP observed a hartal was before June 2001, during AL's last stint in power.
The announcement came as a surprise to many observers, as the BNP standing committee had been divided on the issue of hartal as late as Sunday.
Party insiders said the chairperson did not give any hint even to her senior colleagues about it ahead of the rally.
Thousands of BNP leaders, workers, and supporters welcomed the announcement with applause, chanting "hartal, hartal".
Khaleda also announced programmes of mass sit-ins and protest rallies across the country, to be held prior to the shutdown.
A four-hour mass sit-in will be organised on June 9 on the premises of the Institute of Engineers, Bangladesh in the capital from 10:00am, protesting the government's interference in the judiciary, and appointments of controversial persons as judges; and demanding the peoples' right to justice.
On June 17, the party will hold protest rallies in all districts and upazilas demanding trials of those who recently killed some journalists, and an end to attacks and filing of cases against journos in general; and protesting a recent closure of a private TV channel by the government.
"I hope the government will come to its senses through the observance of the programmes," Khaleda said.
She termed the announced programmers as "warnings for the government", saying, "We will be forced to announce tougher programmes, if the government creates obstacles."
The rallier arrived at the venue carrying banners, placards, festoons, and portraits of Ziaur Rahman, Khaleda Zia, and Tarique Rahman.
They started gathering at Paltan area from noon with processions chanting, "You go Khaleda! We are with you!" Curious onlookers were also seen on the roofs of nearby buildings, and on trees.
She alleged from the rally stage that many of her party workers and supporters could not attend the event, as ruling AL workers obstructed them.
"If all could come, Dhaka would ground to a halt," she claimed.
In addition to scathingly criticising the AL-led grand alliance government, the former premier also lambasted the immediate past caretaker government led by Fakhruddin Ahmed, during almost an hour long speech.
Khaleda alleged that the government is only withdrawing the cases against its own people, which were filed during the caretaker government, while similar cases against opposition leaders and workers are still in effect.
She claimed that the government made the Anti-corruption Commission powerless, so it will not be able to take any step against the ruling party people and government officials, while having all power to harass the opposition and innocent people. "The Anti-corruption Commission also will not be spared, if it does wrong," she warned.
"We know where corruption happens. Files have been opened for all of them. None will be spared," she said.
Accusing AL of making false statements, she claimed it did not add a single megawatt (MW) of electricity to the national grid during its last tenure in government, but BNP during its last stint in power added 1,500 MW, and also completed the process for generating 2,500 MW more, but the caretaker government did not implement those projects.
She criticised the salary hike of the prime minister, president, ministers, and lawmakers "at a time when the people are suffering because of high prices of essential commodities".
She said the government is trying to award contracts for setting up private power stations ignoring proper tender process, and also announced indemnity to officials who will facilitate the practice. "But no indemnity will be given in the future. You will have to face trials if you sign those files violating laws," she warned government officials.
She claimed that the last general election under the military backed caretaker government was not free and fair. "We participated in the election to remove an illegal government which had taken power under the stewardship of the army. But we never had any entente with it."
She lambasted the Election Commission saying it tried to split BNP, in association with the caretaker government. "They tried to make someone else the chairperson of BNP, and also selected a secretary general," she complained.
Talking about her two sons' predicament during the caretaker government, she alleged, "Tarique Rahman was brutally tortured after he had been taken to jail, and later Arafat Rahman was also arrested, but I did not cooperate with the illegal caretaker government, although the other leader went abroad through an understanding," she was referring to AL President Sheikh Hasina's stay abroad during a portion of the caretaker government's rule.
She said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to the nation before the election that she and her cabinet members would disclose their wealth to the public, but that is yet to happen.
The premier is frequently visiting foreign countries, but the country is getting nothing from the visits, she added.
The people are still in the dark about the treaties signed with India during the prime minister's recent visit there, Khaleda alleged adding that the premier handed over everything to the neighbouring country just to stay in power. 


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