Amidst continued violence and heightened political tensions, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called for a 48-hour hartal or general strike in Dhaka and Khulna, south of the capital, on January 21-23. The strike action, meant to shut down the capital, began on January 21 at 06:00 (local time). The BNP’s Joint Secretary General, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, reportedly stated that the hartal was in response to killings and disappearances, along with the harassment and arrest of opposition politicians by the government. On January 20, reports indicated that a Dhaka court issued warrants for the arrest of BNP Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman and Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Jatiotabadi Chatra Dal (JCD), the BNP’s student wing, called for a similar general strike in Dhaka on January 21-23. They are protesting the killing Nuruzzaman Jony, a group leader, during a shootout with police on January 20 in Jorapukur Maath. He was wanted for targeting a police bus with Molotov cocktails on January 17. Protests are also scheduled at universities.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government warned its citizens of the threats emanating from the ongoing political violence in Bangladesh. Also, the US Department of State warned of the fresh calls for another general strike in Dhaka and Khulna on January 21-23. The agency also stated that travel for US Embassy employees and their families has been restricted to the Diplomatic Enclave, which it says includes the Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara areas, from 18:00 (local time) on January 20 until 06:00 on January 23.
The call for a 48-hour strike in Dhaka by the BNP underscores the willingness of the party to intensify pressure on the ruling government, led by the Awami League party. Moreover, the call comes after BNP leader Khaleda Zia said the hartals would continue until the government took the first steps to resolve the political crisis. The BNP-led opposition is demanding fresh elections, after it boycotted elections a year ago. Moreover, the BNP leader’s threat to continue the hartals comes despite a government decision to ease the police presence outside her office in Dhaka’s Gushan district on January 19. The increased security was put in place since the nationwide hartals began. She has been allegedly confined there since early January, and has still not left even though security has been relaxed. The government, however, has consistently denied she was being held there.
Overall, with tensions running high, further violence is likely to occur, and possibly intensify, in Dhaka over January 21-23. Such violence can include clashes between rival factions, with security forces, along with attacks on persons not abiding by the BNP shutdown. Over the past several weeks, enforcement of the blockade has led to daily attacks in general and many reports of assaults on motorists throughout the country. Also in the capital, the homes of political personalities and party offices, are likely to remain targets for assailants. Recently, police have been increasingly targeted. Many attacks in the country have involved Molotov cocktails and low-grade improvised explosives. BNP supporters have reportedly moved increasingly towards the usage of Molotov cocktail-type incendiary devices. Compared to IEDs, they are cheaper and less dangerous to deploy. Furthermore, given the business incentive, very few gas station workers are questioning the increasing number of people purchasing petrol, used to create the devices.
In light of reported government decisions to take more stern action against assailants, further clashes between security forces and opposition activists are likely. This could lead to a rise in fatalities, which would serve to escalate tensions further. Likewise, more arrest raids on leading BNP personalities will also serve to exacerbate tensions, at least in the short-term.