One killed, hundreds arrested as Bangladeshi police crack down on rally
At least one person died Wednesday and scores were injured in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at opposition supporters before arresting hundreds, witnesses and police said.
Tension has been building this week after the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called a massive rally on Saturday to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign.
Opposition spokesman Shahiduddin Chowdhury Annie said police fired at around 5,000 opposition supporters who peacefully gathered outside the BNP main office in central Dhaka on Wednesday.
"We allowed traffic to move. But police suddenly attacked us, firing at our activists and supporters. At least 100 people were injured," Annie said.
The BNP said at least two of their activists, including a student leader, were killed by police fire.
Live footage shared on BNP's verified Facebook page -- which could not be independently corroborated -- appeared to show injured party activists lying on the stairs of the office.
Abdul Hye, a police constable posted at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told AFP that one dead body and at least eight injured people were brought to the hospital.
He could not say whether the body was hit by live or rubber bullets.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruq Ahmed blamed the BNP for the clashes, saying they were trying to clear roads for traffic when party activists attacked law enforcement officers with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
"We fired rubber bullets and tear gas to evacuate the people from the road," he said.
Current BNP chief Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said "police arrested at least 500 activists from inside the party headquarters".
"This is a breach of human rights and the constitution," he told reporters.
The activists chanted slogans against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina while being driven away in prison vans: "It will fall! God willing the Hasina regime will fall".
The clashes came after BNP officials expressed fears that the police would trigger violence to scuttle Saturday's rally, which the party expects will draw hundreds of thousands of people.
Rizvi Ahmed, another party spokesman, said at least 1,430 BNP activists and supporters had been arrested since November 30 in an attempt to stop the rally from taking place.
The BNP want Hasina to resign and for a caretaker administration to govern until fresh elections are held.
Independent observers have said the past two general elections, in which the BNP was decimated, were heavily rigged by Hasina's government.
Fifteen Western embassies issued a joint statement ahead of the rally late Tuesday, calling for the country to allow free expression, peaceful assembly and elections.
The UN said on Wednesday that Bangladesh must hold to its commitments towards free expression, media freedom and peaceful assembly.
"We reaffirm UN's full support to Bangladesh in upholding its commitments," resident coordinator in Bangladesh Gwyn Lewis said in the statement.