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Bangladesh: under curfew

Civil unrest began in Bangladesh on the 20th of August when a petty dispute broke out concerning comments passed by armed forces personnel during a soccer match at a university gymnasium ground. An army camp has occupied part of the ground since the declaration of a state of emergency on January 11, 2007. The Raising Voices: Rising citizen Journalism blog has the background on this dispute. Ershad Ahmed posts some pictures of the Dhaka University Gymnasium field where it all started.

Then it got worse. By evening, the university area had turned into a battle zone, with intermittent fights between police and students and over 100 students injured. The students demanded an apology and the withdrawal of the army camp from the university.

The student riots continued into the night and the day after. The unrest then started spreading from Dhaka University to other educational institutions and elsewhere in the city. Several vehicles were set afire by mobs, including an army jeep, and scores of people were injured. The 3rd world view has details of the second day protests.

The students won a moral victory when, later that day, the chief of the government apologized, the army camp was withdrawn and an official investigation of the army person involved in the incident was launched.

However, the situation did not die down there. By the third day the violence had spread outside Dhaka. Day-long clashes between students-police and army across the country left at least three dead and more than a thousand injured. Of the dead, two were in Rajshahi and one in Chittagong. A CNN video shows the intensity of the protests. Dhaka Blog notes that “small shop owners, footpath peddlers and hawkers joined in the riots.”

Details are fuzzy at this moment about what prompted this massive outrage. Drishtipat blog asked the big question: “what are they protesters protesting about when all of the demands have been met?” It discusses some possibilities:

We have often talked about here the labour unrest, the disconnect of the government with the real people, the inflation– add this to the years of neglect of public interest by previous governments, such massive unrest was predicted but it wasn’t seen to be coming this quickly.

Some commenters on the Drishtipat post suggested that the unrest was being masterminded by corrupt politicians who are in jail. Another commenter noted that “a premature end to Caretaker (Interim) Government will bring grave danger for the country”.

The Government clamped down on the unrest by declaring a curfew from 8 PM yesterday (August 22) for an indefinite period. It appealed to the the citizenry to maintain calm and discipline and refrain from disorderly acts, and cautioned that stern action would be taken against troublemakers. All universities were declared closed for an indefinite period, with students being given a few hours to vacate the dormitories. Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed has blamed “evil forces” for the spread of countrywide violence since Monday. Addabaj asks [bn] “who are the evil forces?”. He reminds readers that the unrest would not have occurred if the army and police had not shown excess.

The imposing of the curfew was a serious disruption to the lives of common citizens. People had little time to return home after closing their businesses. With the limited public transport available, hundreds of thousands of people were left stranded and many had to walk home.

The crackdown began in the night. Bangladesh was virtually cut off from rest of the world. Bangladesh Watchdog reports:

the authority……switched off mobile phone network, all internet traffic has been routed through state telecom, imposed blanket media censorship, arrests and raids of suspects of the “evil force” as well as pro-democracy activists.

The army arrested scores of journalists including blogger-journalist Biplob Rahman [bn] while they were returning home during curfew. Twelve of them including Biplob Rahman were later released. Third Eye Blog asks [bn] “why the security forces detained them when it was announced that people with job ID can get back home?”

E-Bangladesh started updating the situation via podcasts in regular intervals via its correspondent on the ground. Excerpts from a transcript:

* The army and police are now on with a house to house raid inside the campus with a list of student leaders and teachers to be detained. A large number of university teachers have left their university residences for safe locations outside the campus.

* Businesses & houses owned by cabinet members of the interim government came under attack in Dhaka.

With the media self-censoring, bloggers took on the task of informing the world about the situation. Bangla blogging platforms like Somewhere In “Bandh Bhanger Awaaj” [bn] and Sachalayatan [bn] were buzzing with posts and comments without fear.

The internet access almost died down at around midnight and the number of posts decreased in Bangladeshi Blogosphere. With the mobile networks down, people who were stranded could not communicate with home. The flow of information was severely restricted.

Mobile networks and internet went live again this morning, but the TV and radio channels are keeping mum. Online newspapers are not updating. The 3rd world view summarizes some of the latest updates from bloggers. Journalist Arafatul Islam says [bn]:

* The internet connections were out from 1:30AM at night. Limited connections were live at around 9:30 AM. Some say BTTB servers (state controlled internet gate away) were down. Some say the link to submarine cable was snapped. Some say ISPs ceased to serve their client on Government's instructions.

* Today even Rickshaws are not allowed. Journalists, employees or businessmen are not allowed to commute. So almost everyone is preferring to stay at home.

Journalist Faisal writes [bn] that the Curfew has been relaxed from 4PM to 7PM today (Bangladesh time).

In the Gang Naira points to another worrying reality:

What's really bothering me is the impediment to the flood relief work, as it is we're not being able to reach every one.

For more details and updates on the news the blogs quoted above can be a good start.

4 comments

  • Greenviews

    AA: The Awami Leageu has failed Muslim Bengal. The Muslims of Bengal were yearning for representation and got one man/woman rule from the Awami League. In this hour of need, your Muslim brothers in Pakistan ask you to create a confederation with Pakistan! We all will support your rights. This new confedration will be largest Muslim country in the world, a nuclear power and will rename the Indian ocean as Bay of Bengal.WAS

  • AA: You comments seem irrelevant to the topic and refer to history of Pakistan and Bangladesh. However you are welcome to provide your opinion.

    Few pointers for you: Many Bangladeshis like me value their cultural identity as Bengali upfront. Religion is part of peoples personal lives and we value co-existence, respect and tolerance. Although there are some like you who still inherit the notion of the two nation theory (on the basis of religion) which separated India and Pakistan.

    “In this hour of need, your Muslim brothers in Pakistan ask you to create a confederation with Pakistan! We all will support your rights.”

    I personally have no objection with any confederation with Pakistan, India and any other South Asian nations but with respecting each others sovereignty. I think its high time we should think of a confederation like EU. I think what Pakistan can do for the start is apologize to Bangladesh for carrying out one of the worst genocides of the history of mankind by its army during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. My Pakistani friends suggest that the general people of Pakistan knew little of the atrocities and a formal apology will only heal some bitter wounds.

  • […] “what are they protesters protesting about when all of the demands have been met?” (via Rezwan/Global Voices). It is, of course, referring to the ongoing civil unrest in […]

  • Adam Pal

    I am very concerned about the condition in Bangladesh. I think that the current riots have a base in the rising inflation in last few months. I want to know the cost of living of a ordinary man in Dacca and the prices of common food items.

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