January 5, 2015 1:08:53 pm
Two men on a motorbike opened fire on a group of anti-government activists in northwestern Bangladesh on Monday, killing two amid heightened tensions on the anniversary of a general election boycotted by a major opposition alliance last year, a local opposition leader said.
The shooting took place in Natore district, 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of the capital, Dhaka, which has remained largely cut off since Sunday, said Aminul Haque, a leader from the local unit of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Police would not immediately confirm the identities of the dead, but Haque said they were activists from the party’s student wing. The identities of the two men on the motorbike were not immediately known.
The Jan. 5 election last year was boycotted by a major opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Tensions heated up recently after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party said it would hold rallies to celebrate the anniversary, while Zia _ her archrival _ announced that anti-government protests would take place.
Speaking to activists from her party’s student wing on Sunday, Hasina criticized Zia, saying it was a mistake not to participate in last year’s election and accusing her of destabilizing the country. Zia’s party boycotted the election because it said it would be rigged.
Police on Sunday banned all rallies in Dhaka and prevented Zia from leaving her office, while dozens of opposition activists were detained across the country. Police said they cordoned off Zia’s Dhaka office as part of enhanced security steps.
Police erected barbed wire fences and parked sand-laden trucks at entry points leading to Zia’s rented house, while a huge contingent of security officials surrounded the area on Monday.
An aide of Zia told reporters that the former prime minister would defy the ban and urged her supporters to hold the rally. “She will attempt to come out of the office later today to join the rally,” said Maruf Kamal Khan.
On Sunday, police clashed with opposition supporters in several parts of the country, leaving dozens of people injured, ATN Bangla and Channel 24 television stations reported.
By Sunday evening, Dhaka was cut off from the rest of the country, with capital-bound buses and ferries shut down due to fears of violence.
Zia has renewed her call for Hasina to step down and declare a new election, but ruling party leaders have rejected the demand, saying the next election will not be held before 2019, when the government’s five-year term expires.
The Election Commission held last year’s election after two major political alliances led by Hasina and Zia failed to agree on a formula for appointing a caretaker government to oversee the poll.
Chaos had reigned in the country for a year, with opposition activists staging a series of attacks, strikes and transportation blockades that left nearly 300 people dead in 2013.
Zia was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, but failed to hand over power peacefully. A military-backed caretaker government then ruled the country for two years before Hasina came to power with a landslide election win in 2008.
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