DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladeshi police on Wednesday fired rubber bullets and tear gas at a group of opposition supporters in the capital, Dhaka, as tension mounted weeks before the parliamentary elections.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) activists reacted to police intervention by firing vans and police cars, as well as several motorcycles, according to police and the media .
"Our forces have been attacked for no reason. They were only trying to facilitate the movement but they were suddenly targeted, "said Masudur Rahman, spokesman for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
BNP supporters accompanied an election candidate who was retrieving candidatures from party offices in the city.
The police initially asked the group of more than 500 people to disperse because they were creating a traffic jam, but an altercation ensued and clashes took place between the BNP supporters and the police.
The BNP said at least 12 of its supporters had been injured. Police said that at least 20 officers had been injured.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir called the action of the police an injustice and was part of a government plot to exclude the party from the elections on Dec. 30.
The general elections are invariably unstable in Bangladesh, where politics has been dominated for more than two decades by the rivalry between two women leaders – Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia – both occupying the post of prime minister.
Hasina, who is currently Prime Minister, and Khaleda, leader of the BNP, are both related to former national leaders.
The BNP states that an interim government is essential to holding free and fair elections, failing which it asserts that the Awami League, in power, led by Hasina, will rely on it. government apparatus to support his campaign.
The BNP is in disarray after the incarceration of the beginning of the year under the corruption charges brought against Khaleda, on trumped up charges to keep it out of the policy.
The last elections, in 2014, boycotted by the BNP, were tainted with deadly violence and criticized by international observers.
An alliance of opposition parties, including the BNP, announced Sunday that it would contest the election despite rejection of the Awami League's request to form an interim government.
Hasina's government has earned international acclaim for hosting hundreds of thousands of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees, but critics have decried what they see as an increasingly authoritarian regime for the prime minister.
In particular, they attacked it for what critics view as the heavy surveillance exercised by the government over this year's student protests and repression of freedom of expression.
Reportage of Serajul Quadir; Edited by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel