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Desperation for win led to Mathbaria bloodshed

Local AL leader was bent on ensuring victory for party favourite at any cost, witnesses say
Sohel with his daughter days before he was killed.

An Awami League leader's desperate attempts to clinch victory for his party favourite in Tuesday's polls to Dhanisafa union parishad cost five lives in Mathbaria of Pirojpur, according to locals.

Mirajul Islam, vice chairman of Bhandaria upazila parishad and secretary of the upazila unit AL, was hell-bent on securing win for his party's Harun-ar-Rashid and led his men to rig the election right from the beginning of the polling, they say.

Mirajul is the younger brother of Mohiuddin Maharaz, assistant personal secretary to Environment and Forest Minister Anwar Hossain Manju.

Apart from those killed, scores were injured when Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) personnel opened fire to disperse Mirajul's men who had besieged the polling officials hours after the voting ended.

The Daily Star talked to a number of witnesses, voters and inhabitants of the area yesterday to know what exactly had happened that led to the bloodshed. They all requested anonymity, fearing reprisal.

Almost all the nine polling centres in Dhanisafa UP saw electoral irregularities, but the situation was the worst at the Safa Degree College centre where the shooting took place. Voting was temporarily suspended after the AL men had stormed the centre and stuffed ballot boxes several times, they said.

Two other centres -- Gudighata Sorojani Adarsha Secondary School and Uttar Patakata Government Primary School-- also witnessed irregularities. Law enforcers fired shots in the air at the Uttar Patakata centre due to clashes. Eventually polling was suspended there in the afternoon.

Dhanisafa UP has 18,198 voters. After the primary counting, independent candidate Rafiqul Islam got 4,173 votes while AL's Harun bagged 4,045 votes. The centre where the voting was suspended has 1,554 votes.

The Safa college centre was the last one to announce the results. Due to deterioration of the situation, an executive magistrate along with BGB personnel was present at the time of announcement of the results around 8:30pm.

There were around 2,600 voters under the centre and 1,580 votes were cast. Harun got 438 votes and Rafiqul 322.

The presiding officer then declared void around 700 ballots, all of which reportedly had stamps on the AL's 'boat' symbol, saying the ballots did not have his signature on them, said locals present at that time.

Hearing the news, Mijarul -- who had been around the centre since the afternoon -- rushed to the centre with more than 3,000 people, many armed with sticks and sharp weapons, and besieged the magistrate, the presiding officer and the BGB men from all sides of the college.

Many of them were activists of the pro-AL Chhatra League and Jubo League.

The magistrate and the polling officials were preparing to leave for the office of the Upazila Nirbahi Officer with election results, but Mirajul and his men tried to force them to declare the void ballots valid.

"The situation turned dangerous at that time," said a witness.

"The officials repeatedly requested Mirajul to let them go, saying they had no authority to do so," said another villager.

"But Mirajul did not relent. Rather, he even hurled abusive words at the magistrate," he said.

At one stage, the magistrate ordered the BGB men to fire shots in the air. "But Mirajul's men still did not let them go," said a local, who went there out of curiosity.

Two of his men, armed with sharp weapons, vandalised some light bulbs of the building. "When more people were about to join them, the magistrate ordered the BGB [men] to open fire," he said.

"Had the magistrate waited a few more minutes, there would have been serious trouble," said the man, who is a grocer.

Three people died on the spot and two more on way to a local hospital.

"No incident of firing would have taken place if Mirajul had not gone there with his men," said another local.

The district administration has formed a three-member committee to investigate the incident, reports UNB.

Contacted, Mirajul denied his involvement in the incident.

"I was around 200 metres away from the polling centre at the time of the incident. I came to the spot after hearing that over 700 votes for 'boat' symbol were not included in the result sheets," he told The Daily Star.

Mirajul claimed that the law enforcers opened fire "without any provocation".

He also alleged the executive magistrate worked in favour of independent candidate Rafiqul Islam, whose cousin is an additional secretary.

Rafiqul Islam, however, said though his cousin was in the village to attend a Qulkhwani, he had not done anything to influence the polling.

"Mirajul and the Awami League candidate gathered people from other unions to rig the voting. They stuffed ballot boxes during the polling.

"The 700 illegal votes are the proof of those irregularities.

"Two of the deceased -- Kamrul and Shahadat -- hailed from another upazila and this shows that they were hired," Rafiqul added.

Saif M Sohel Laskar, organising secretary of Mathbari upazila Jubo League, admitted that the ruling party men indeed were creating pressure on the magistrate and the presiding officer to declare the void ballots valid.

"But the BGB men should not have opened fire like that," he told The Daily Star.

Our Pirojpur correspondent visited the UP yesterday and found a nervy situation prevailing there.

Cries and sighs of the family members filled the houses of the deceased.

Manju Begum, mother of deceased Sohel, said, "I demand punishment to those who killed my son."


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