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Supporters accuse authorities of keeping opposition figure Khaleda Zia under de facto house arrest. [AFP]
|Bangladesh police fired water cannon and shotguns at opposition protesters in the capital, killing one person, at the start of a banned mass march aimed at thwarting next month’s general election.Hundreds of demonstrators, some throwing home-made bombs, battled police on Sunday as they tried to gather at the opposition’s headquarters and other places throughout Dhaka for the so-called “March for Democracy”.
The opposition says an election scheduled for January 5 must be held under a neutral caretaker government, as in the past, to prevent ballot-rigging.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia, a two-time former prime minister and Hasina’s arch-rival, has urged supporters to defy the ban on Sunday’s march and converge on the capital.
In Rampura neighbourhood, more than 200 demonstrators threw small bombs at police who responded with shotgun blasts during clashes there that left one person dead, a senior officer said.
Police have banned the so-called “March for Democracy” amid fears that the rally would become a focal point for more unrest after what has already been the deadliest year of political violence in the country’s history.
Police have detained more than 750 opposition supporters as a “preventive measure”, while authorities have suspended Dhaka-bound bus, ferry and train services, virtually cutting off the city from the rest of the country.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies have staged weeks of deadly protests, strikes and transport blockades to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign. Dozens of people have been killed.
Sticks and rocks
Running battles erupted between police and protesters near the BNP headquarters where Zia was scheduled later Sunday to address the rally, TV footage showed.
Ruling party activists, armed with sticks and rocks, also clashed with opposition protesters outside the press club.
Scores of police stopped Khaleda Zia’s car as it tried to drive from her house to the march in the capital, where hundreds of her supporters are clashing with security forces, aide Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said.
“Khaleda Zia boarded her car and tried to leave her house to lead the march. But police barred her car from leaving,” Chowdhury, who is also a vice-president of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, told AFP news agency.
Police and security forces have conducted nationwide raids, searching trains and buses to arrest opposition supporters.
They have also set up check posts for passengers and commuters at the entry points to Dhaka.
Security has been tight in the city with around 11,000 officers and the elite Rapid Action Battalion patrolling the streets and key flashpoints.
Imran Khan, Pakistani politician and cricket star, led the protest staged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province [AFP]
|Thousands of people protesting US drone strikes have blocked a road in northwest Pakistan that is used to transport NATO troop supplies and equipment in and out of Afghanistan.
Imran Khan, a Pakistani politician and former cricket star, led the protest in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that his Tehreek-e-Insaf party governs, and called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the US to end deadly drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.
“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told the protesters, who dispersed after his speech.
The US Embassy in Islamabad declined to comment on the protest that closed a route leading to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland from Pakistan to neighbouring Afghanistan where the US leads the coalition of NATO troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The protest was likely to have more symbolic value than practical impact, because there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays.
Drone strikes have been a growing source of friction between Islamabad and Washington.
Khan and other officials regularly denounce the attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, although the country’s government is known to have supported some of the strikes in the past.
The protest came only two days after a rare US drone strike outside of Pakistan’s remote tribal region killed five people, including at least three Afghan fighters, at an Islamic seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The attack outraged Pakistani officials, as did one on November 1 that killed the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, a day before the Pakistani government said it was going to invite him to hold peace talks.
Khan pushed the Pakistani government to block NATO supplies after the strike on Mehsud, but it has shown little interest in doing so.
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, has been a vocal critic of drone strikes, but he has also said he values the country’s relationship with the US.
Sharif pushed US President Barack Obama to end drone strikes in a visit to Washington in October, but the US government has shown no indication that it intends to stop using a tool that it sees as vital to battling al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
|Bangladeshi journalists have said the government is threatening the freedom of the press in the country.The ruling Awami League has shut down TV stations and detained a prominent newspaper editor in the past few months in an apparent bid to restrict the media.
Opponents say it is part of a political strategy ahead of next year’s elections, but the government says the measures are necessary after months of violent protests.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull reports from Bangladesh.
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India has become so desperate for fresh stocks of the onions it uses in spicy curries that it is trying to import them from neighbours, and is even considering airlifts to ease soaring prices.
Indians go through 15m tonnes of onions a year, using them as the base for traditional dishes such as biryani and bhaji. The country is the second-largest onion grower in the world, after China, and normally exports them.
But retail prices have quadrupled in the past three months, to as high as 100 rupees ($1.62) per kliogram, making the onions an unaffordable luxury for India’s poor.
The soaring prices could become an issue in elections scheduled for next month in five states, including the capital, New Delhi.
To ease prices, the state-run farm cooperative issued a tender this week to purchase onions from abroad.
Supplies from abroad may take weeks to arrive, however; Farm Minister Sharad Pawar proposed on Wednesday importing them by air, because sea transport takes longer.
“The state-run agencies are floating import tenders, but supplies are likely to come only after 3-4 weeks,” said Changdev Holkar, a director at the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation. “And quantity would be also miniscule compared to demand.”
A new crop of onions should be harvested in two or three weeks, but heavy rains are expected in the coming days in several onion-growing states, which could have a disastrous effect on the crops.
The government blames the crisis on both bad weather and speculation by middlemen. KV Thomas, the Indian food minister, accused traders on Saturday of “cheating consumers,” urging them to sell onions at “affordable rates.”
His ruling Congress party fears a backlash from its main support base. “The sky-high prices of onions have given the opposition a potent weapon to attack the government with,” commented the Hindustan Timesnewspaper recently.
Costly onions have a history of political fallout, with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being ousted in 1998 Delhi state polls after surging onion prices soured the voter mood.
In January 1980, the late Congress leader Indira Gandhi rode back to power on the back of rising onion prices, waving huge strings of them at campaign rallies and saying that a government has no right to govern if it cannot control onion costs.
The latest onion price rise has also come in the middle of India’s most important religious festival season, an occasion for multi-day feasts and family dinners.
- India looks to China, Iran for onions to cool political heat (theiranproject.com)
- Onion prices: Dikshit to meet Pawar, Thomas on Thursday (thehindu.com)
- Slipping on onion prices (thehindu.com)
- Onions threaten future of Delhi state govt (worldbulletin.net)
- India and the Onion (sandyyadav.com)
- Onion prices: Sheila Dikshit to meet Sharad Pawar, KV Thomas today (ndtv.com)
Villages in Andhra Pradesh were inundated and crops were being ruined in the so-called Rice Bowl of India [AP]
|Days of torrential rains in southeast India have unleashed floods that have blocked roads, halted trains and forced the evacuation of nearly 70,000 people from hundreds of low-lying villages.
The Press Trust of India on Saturday cited Andhra Pradesh state officials as saying that 39 people had died in flood-related incidents since the rains began Monday.
Villages were inundated and crops were being ruined in the so-called Rice Bowl of India. Many drowned when swept away by surging waters or were killed when weakened walls collapsed onto them.
Railway services have also been suspended along routes where tracks were damaged.
The local Disaster Management Department said evacuated residents were sheltering in 178 camps, while relief workers in boats and helicopters were working to help or rescue hundreds of thousands stranded by floods that have swamped both coastal and inland regions along rivers.
The region was hit earlier this month by a powerful cyclone that prompted authorities to evacuate nearly a million people in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states.
India’s Meteorological Department on Saturday forecast the rains to continue for at least another day.
- Tens of thousands flee India flooding; 39 dead (nzherald.co.nz)
- Floods follow storm havoc in eastern India – Asia – Al Jazeera English (olduvaiblog.wordpress.com)
Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000” [Reuters]
|At least six people have been killed and more than 100 injured across Bangladesh and more than 100,000 opposition activists rallied in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and order polls under a caretaker government.
Police said the protesters died after officers and border guards opened fire in three towns as the supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies protested across the country, AFP news agency reported.
Two protesters were killed and several others were injured by bullets in the southern resort district of Cox’s Bazaar when border guards opened fire at several thousand supporters of the BNP.
“The border guards opened fire after the BNP activists defied a ban on rallies and attacked the forces,” Cox’s Bazaar district deputy police chief Babul Akter told AFP.
Several television channels reported that three people died in the central district of Chandpur when police and ruling Awami League supporters clashed with opposition supporters.
At least 30 people were injured in the clash in the area, which is 64km east of the capital.
A demonstrator died in the northern town of Jaldhaka after the elite Rapid Action Battalion opened fire at about 10,000 rampaging supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key ally of the BNP, area police head Mohammad Moniruzzman told AFP.
The violence also spread to the eastern district of Comilla, where at least 20 people were injured.
Similar clashes were also reported in Bangladesh’s second-largest city, Chittagong, which is in the southeast, and in many other towns across the country.
In Dhaka, opposition supporters allegedly set fire to a car and a bus, but no injuries were reported.
At least 10 homemade bombs were exploded at a premier public university area in Dhaka.
Ruhul Kabir Rizvy Ahmed, a spokesman for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said at least 400 opposition supporters were arrested across the country.
The clashes occurred as the BNP and its Islamist allies called nationwide mass protests to force Hasina to resign ahead of the January 2014 elections and set up a technocrat-led caretaker government to oversee the polls.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia addressed a rally of over 100,000 supporters at a national memorial in central Dhaka, renewing her threat to boycott the polls and setting Hasina a new weekend deadline to hold a dialogue on her demand for a caretaker government.
“There will be no election under Hasina. We won’t allow any one-party election. The election must include all parties and be conducted by a neutral caretaker government,” Zia told the crowd, announcing a nationwide strike for Sunday to Tuesday to press her demands.
Bangladeshi politics has long been dominated by a feud between the two dynastic leaders who distrust each other.
Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000”. Witnesses and BNP officials said the figure was double.
Tensions have been rising in Bangladesh since Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) party rejected an October 24 deadline set by the BNP for accepting its demands.
Zia, who has twice served as premier, branded the government “illegal” as of Friday, citing a legal provision that requires a neutral caretaker government to be set up three months before elections slated for January 2014.
But the ruling AL abolished the provision in 2011, handing the job of overseeing polls to a reformed Election Commission.
The government has deployed thousands of police and paramilitary border guards in Dhaka, in the port city of Chittagong where the ruling party called a rival rally that was peaceful, and other potential flashpoints.
“We’ve sent BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) troops to 20 major cities and towns,” BGB director colonel Hafiz Ahsan told AFP.
Police said they fired rubber bullets in half a dozen other towns, leaving scores injured after the supporters of the AL party and the BNP clashed.
While the nation has a long history of political violence, this year has been the deadliest since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971.
At least 150 people have been killed since January after a controversial court began handing down death sentences to Islamist leaders allied to ex-premier Zia.
- Five dead as 100,000 opposition supporters rally in Bangladesh (channelnewsasia.com)
- Bangladesh security officials clash with opposition supporters, killing 3, injuring dozens (vancouverdesi.com)
- Bangladesh Opposition Unveils Strike Plan (abcnews.go.com)
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- Afghan, NATO troops repel Taliban attack on US base near Pakistan border – CNN (edition.cnn.com)
- Leaked report shows Bin Laden’s ‘hidden life’ – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English (insightsonindia.com)
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