A pitched battle between police and Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists in the capital left scores, including cops, injured and a number of vehicles burnt on Wednesday, the third day of BNP’s nomination sale.
The clashes erupted in front of BNP central office at Naya Paltan when police reportedly tried to make way for traffic through crowds of leaders and activists who gathered there, witnesses and police said.
Both Awami League and opposition BNP traded blame over the clashes which they said were ‘conspiracies’ aimed to ‘ruin the upcoming national elections’, now rescheduled for December 30.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police claimed that the BNP activists attacked the on-duty police personnel without any provocation.
The incident of clashes occurred just a day after Election Commission on Tuesday issued an order asking law enforcers to contain election code violations.
Election Commission secretary Helaluddin Ahmed, addressing a press conference at Nirbachan Bhaban at Agargaon in the city after the clashes, said that the commission in a meeting with a delegation of Jatiya Oikya Front said sorry for the incident.
The EC secretary told reporters that that chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda also assured the JOF delegation, led by Dr Kamal Hossain, of probing the matter after getting the police report.
He said that the commission also assured the team that they would take necessary steps so that such incident did not repeat.
Witnesses said that BNP leaders and activists, as they did in the last two days, swarmed the party central office since morning on the occasion of BNPs’ nomination paper sale when police tried to free the road in front of the party office.
They said that there was a festive mood as the party leaders and activists reached the spot in processions, carrying posters, banners, festoons, placards and portraits of party chairperson Khaleda Zia, acting chairman Tarique Rahman and nomination aspirants, and even beating drums.
The party formally started sale of nomination with the purchase of three nomination papers for its jailed chairperson Khaleda Zia on Monday morning. The nomination paper sale would continue until November 16.
Witnesses said that the traffic was hindered due to the huge rush of BNP leaders and activists in front of the party office.
Towards 12:45pm, when BNP standing committee member Mirza Abbas, as an aspirant candidate for Dhaka-8 constituency, came in front of the party office with a huge procession of his supporters, the road near the office was blocked by the party stalwarts.
They alleged that police along with a vehicle asked the BNP supporters to free the road but, as they did not pay heed, the police vehicle honked horn and tried to make way through the crowds when some BNP activists got hurt. They engaged in a heated exchange.
At one point, they alleged, when police started to charge baton, the activists became agitated and began pelting pieces of brick on police, which triggered clashes between police and the activists.
Meanwhile, police lobbed tear gas shells and fired pellets to disperse the agitating activists, they said.
A good number of activists ran for shelter at nearby lanes and by-lanes and houses while the shops and shopping centres between Fakirapul and Nightingale Intersection were closed, they said.
Severe traffic jam occurred in the surrounding areas during the clashes.
Two police vehicles near the BNP central office were set on fire while glasses of several cars were vandalised before the chase and counter-chase let up towards 1:30am, they said.
The protesters also demonstrated on the road by setting fire to woods and placards they carried.
Dozens of BNP leaders and activists as well as the police personnel were injured during the clashes.
They said that several pellet-injured BNP leaders and activists were taken away from the spot in ambulances.
After the clashes, police put barricades at two ends of the road — at Fakirapul and at Nightingale Intersections and controlled traffic.
Later, several groups of BNP leaders and activists brought out processions and denounced the attack.
Nomination sale was suspended for about three hours due to the clash, BNP assistant office secretary Taiful Islam Tipu told New Age. ‘It resumed about 3:30pm,’ he said.
BNP joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi at a press conference at the party central office alleged that it was a planned attack that injured over 50 BNP leaders and activists.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police additional commissioner Monirul Islam, briefing reporters after the clash, said the BNP activists attacked the police without any provocation that left at least 13 cops, including an additional deputy commissioner and an assistant commissioner, injured.
He said that the injured cops were undergoing treatment at Rajarbagh Police Lines Hospital.
‘Seven or eight policemen along with an armoured personnel carrier were performing duty there. Police obstructed the BNP men as they blocked the road. Obstructed, they torched a police vehicle and attacked the policemen,’ Monirul, also chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit, claimed.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, before joining the meeting between Jatiya Oikya Front and Election Commission at Nirbachan Bhaban at Agargaon on Wednesday afternoon, blamed police for the clash and said it would only hamper the election atmosphere.
‘The government is trying to ruin the election atmosphere by attacking our leaders and activists. This is unfortunate that the law enforcers attacked our leaders and activists,’ he alleged.
He urged the government not to create any such incident further and called upon the government to ensure a congenial election atmosphere.
The BNP secretary general later at night from a press briefing at the party chairperson’s Gulshan office claimed that 60 to 70 leaders and activists, including former lawmaker of BNP and the party chairperson’s adviser Helaluzzaman Lalu and Khulna district BNP general secretary Amir Ejaj Khan, were arrested by police.
Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader, at a press conference at Dhanmandi-3, office of the party president Sheikh Hasina, alleged that BNP leader Mirza Abbus led the attack on police without any provocation.
Quader, also the road transport and bridges minster, said that BNP, as part of a conspiracy, was trying to create anarchies to foil the next general elections and not to take part in the elections.
‘Now we are waiting to see what step Election Commission takes as the home minster has now gone under EC following announcement of the election schedule,’ Quader said.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan, talking to reporters in the afternoon, said the attack on police at Naya Platan was carried out in a planned way to foil the upcoming general election.
He warned that legal actions against the attackers following video footages and that the government was ready to tackle all types of situations.
Sub-inspector Faruque Hossain of Paltan Police Station said around 12:45am on Thursday that no case was lodged with the police station in this connection as yet.
He, however, said preparations for cases were underway.
‘Some people’ were picked up by the police after the incident but were taken to the detective branch of DMP, he said.
Counter Terrorism Division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police in the evening, on its facebook page, published a photo in which a youth was seen setting fire to a police vehicle with a matchbox, saying ‘wanted by DMP’ after the photo went viral on social media by some campaigners identifying the youth to be an activist of ruling AL’s student organisation, Chhatra League.
Countering the campaign, another group identified the youth to be an activist of BNP’s student wing, Chhatra Dal.
In a statement, Left Democratic Alliance, expressed concern over the clashes and called upon EC to play a neutral role and identify the persons responsible for the incident.
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