The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other opposition allies have held rallies in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, and nine other cities to call for the resignation of Sheikh Hasina, the country’s prime minister, and to the holding of new elections. “The time for clinging to power by force is over,” said Mirza Abbas, a senior BNP leader, during a sit-in outside the party’s headquarters in the capital. “Let a neutral government organize elections,” he called.
Police say 50,000 protesters came to listen to Mirza Abbas, released from prison on Monday, a month after a major crackdown on opposition activists. But according to BNP officials, several hundred thousand protesters answered their call in Dhaka, and thousands more in similar rallies across the country.
A currency reduced by almost 25%
Bangladesh remains one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, but the conflict in Ukraine has forced the government to suspend gas and diesel imports. Rising food and fuel prices in the wake of war in Ukraine forced Sheikh Hasina’s government to impose long power cuts last year and increase food distribution to the poor.
Bangladesh’s currency, the taka, has depreciated by almost 25%, driving up the cost of food imports and making life even more difficult for the most vulnerable. The ruling Awami League staged a much smaller counter-protest in Dhaka in support of Sheikh Hasina, shouting down calls for his resignation.
“Extremists are gathering in one place to overthrow us,” she told her supporters yesterday. “Don’t think the party will crumble if shaken. Things are not that easy.” Western governments and the United Nations have expressed concern over the current political climate in Bangladesh where Sheikh Hasina’s party dominates parliament.
In December 2021, the United States imposed sanctions on an elite counter-terrorism and anti-crime group, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and seven senior security officials, including the national police chief, for gross human rights violations. Sheikh Hasina’s government denies being behind any enforced disappearances of supporters and opposition leaders, and says several criminals were killed in crossfire with officers.