Bangladesh arrests more opposition leaders as PM Sheikh Hasina rejects dialogue

Bangladesh’s main opposition party said on Friday that three more of its senior leaders had been arrested, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ruled out talks with adversaries demanding her resignation.

Hasina has been accused of ruling the South Asian nation with an iron fist and the United States has sanctioned some of its most senior police figures for widespread human rights violations.

The past year has seen a series of huge rallies against her administration across the country by protesters demanding a neutral caretaker government preside over elections slated for January.

‘Do or die’: strikes, clashes roil Bangladesh as opposition vows poll boycott

Hundreds of senior cadres and supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been arrested, with former commerce minister Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury among those taken into custody overnight.

“Police arrested my dad from my aunt’s home in Gulshan at around midnight,” said Chowdhury’s son Israfil Khosru.

The party also confirmed the arrests of BNP spokesman Zahir Uddin Swapan and Aminul Huq, a former national football captain and a Dhaka unit chief of the party.

The latest arrests come just days after police detained Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, one of the BNP’s highest-ranked leaders.

Alamgir was charged with the murder of a police officer who was killed during clashes between security forces and opposition activists on Saturday.

He and Chowdhury have helped lead the party since the 2018 jailing of former prime minister Khaleda Zia, with her son and heir apparent exiled in London.

Police have yet to comment on the latest arrests but said in an earlier statement that at least 2,113 people had been arrested over the past week on charges of violence during opposition protests.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2021. Hasina has again ruled out dialogue with the opposition. Photo: TNS

Hasina again ruled out any dialogue with the BNP in an address to parliament on Thursday.

“Who would ask for talks with these beasts?” she said, in a speech that also accused her adversary Zia’s son of hiring killers to murder her.

Violence erupted across in the capital Dhaka on Sunday as more than 100,000 people took to the streets in the latest protest against Hasina’s government.

Protests have continued in the days since with opposition activists attempting to blockade roads and railway lines.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters during a protest demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Sunday. Photo: EPA-EFE

At least four protesters and one police officer have been killed in clashes since the weekend.

Hasina has overseen phenomenal economic growth during her 15 years in power, but Western nations have sounded the alarm over democratic backsliding.

Her security forces are accused of detaining tens of thousands of opposition activists, killing hundreds in extrajudicial encounters and disappearing hundreds of leaders and supporters – charges denied by her government.

The elite Rapid Action Battalion police unit and seven of its senior officers were sanctioned by Washington in 2021 in response to those alleged rights abuses.

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