By yesterday evening, most districts were cut off from the capital as pro-Awami League transport associations stopped operating buses and launches, apparently to foil tomorrow's Dhaka march called by the BNP-led opposition alliance.
A number of bus and launch owners said they did not operate as law enforcers "advised" them to remain grounded on security concerns.
Moreover, transport associations in Chittagong, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Khulna divisions have called a two-day strike beginning this morning, protesting the recent vandalism and arson attacks on buses by the opposition men and demanding the arrests of the attackers. The shutdown will end tomorrow evening.
“Busses are leaving Dhaka but they are not returning to the capital as the drivers and helpers fear for their security," Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, told The Daily Star last night.
All Dhaka-bound passenger vessels already stopped operating from Barisal, Bhola, Chandpur, Jhalakathi, Pirojpur and Patuakhali yesterday evening. As of 9:00pm, passengers of four launches were waiting for their vessels to leave the Barisal launch terminal.
However, trains across the country would be on schedule, said Railway Director General Abu Taher.
Earlier, the government virtually halted traffic movement to and from the capital in efforts to thwart BNP's Dhaka march rally on March 12.
“It's funny that the government is cutting off the capital from the rest of the country by stopping buses, trains and launches so that people can't come to Dhaka to join the programme,” alleged Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, a BNP standing committee member.
But Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu told the BBC Bangla that the government was not preventing transport owners from operating. He added that owners were scared of being attacked on the way.
Meanwhile, BNP chief Khaleda Zia yesterday directed the opposition leaders and activists to defy any government obstructions and make the programme a success.
Her directive came hours after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police turned down the opposition request for permission for the rally at Nayapaltan in the capital. The rally is scheduled to begin at 10:00am.
“I've always been with you and will be with you in future. But if I can't be there on that day [tomorrow] for certain reasons, you remain on the streets until the government falls,” she said in a video message sent to the media.
BNP insiders said Khaleda instructed top leaders in Dhaka to march towards the BNP headquarters at any cost. She also asked them to stage sit-ins where they would face police barricade.
The BNP chairperson on Tuesday announced the Dhaka march programme, and urged the people from all walks of life to gather at Nayapaltan to press home their demand for holding the election under a nonparty government.
Asked about denying the permission to hold the rally, Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner (media) of DMP, said: "The opposition was denied permission on security grounds."
On Thursday night alone, police arrested 360 opposition men across the country, including 167 in the capital.
On why they stopped operating, bus owners in Jessore, Satkhira and Jhenidah said they did so because of difficulties at Daulatdia Ferry Terminal.
Azizul Alam Mintu, president of Paribahan Sangstha Sramik Samiti of 21 southern districts, said they stopped operating due to dense fog at the terminal.
Some busses did leave for Dhaka from Sylhet and Chittagong, but the authorities asked them to enter the capital before 12:00am today, said officials of the operators.
They added they did not sell any tickets for today and tomorrow.
Our Bogra correspondent himself went to buy a ticket of a Dhaka-bound bus, but staff there said police forbade them to sale any ticket.
Badiuzzaman, adviser of Bangladesh Inland Waterways Passenger Carriers Association, said they did not stop operating altogether but cut down the number of vessels due to "shortage of passengers".
“Actually, passengers are afraid of travelling in this situation,” he claimed.
Ferries at Mawa-Keorakandi and Paturia-Daulatdia operated normally till yesterday evening, but stopped when night fell due to dense fog.
Our correspondents from Madaripur, Munshiganj and Manikganj report that there were no passenger-carrying buses at the two ferry terminals.
More than two lakh Jamaat-Shibir men have already reached the capital from adjacent districts of Dhaka till yesterday, a top leader in the BNP-led alliance who is close to Jamaat told this newspaper.
“They have massive preparation to stage a showdown at the programme. In case of any obstacle, they may stage violent protests in Dhaka,” he said adding: “But if the BNP men do not take to the streets, Jamaat men will not stage violent protests.”
In addition, more than one lakh leaders and activists of Jamaat-Shibir's Dhaka city unit are ready to join the march. The party has given orders to make four lakh national flags to distribute among its leaders and activists, said Jamaat sources.