Sudden clash hurts polls atmosphere

20 BNP activists, as many policemen injured in pitched battles in front of party office; 2 police vehicles torched; ministers, BNP put blame on each other
Two police cars in flames near the BNP headquarters in Nayapaltan during a clash between police and party activists yesterday. More photos on page-3. Photo: Amran Hossain

The peaceful electoral atmosphere that prevailed in the country for the last two weeks was suddenly marred by yesterday's clash between BNP activists and police in front of the party's Naya Paltan central office.

At least 20 BNP men were injured -- some by rubber bullets -- in the clash that broke out around 12:45pm when police moved to disperse hundreds of party activists gathered there during sale of nomination forms.

Vehicular movement from Bijoynagar to Fakirapool intersection remained suspended for over three hours till 3:30pm.

Police claimed that 20 law enforcers were wounded as BNP activists hurled brick chips at them.

Earlier on Saturday, two teenage "supporters" of an Awami League nomination seeker were run over and killed by a pickup fleeing an attack allegedly by a rival group in the capital's Mohammadpur.

Since 9:00am yesterday, the Naya Paltan office premises had been teeming with several thousand BNP men, including nomination seekers and their supporters, as the party was selling   nomination forms for the third consecutive day.

The party men blocked one side of the VIP road, leaving the other side open to traffic.

BNP men torch vehicles
Additional police forces are deployed in Nayapaltan area on November 14, 2018 after BNP men lock in a clash with them. Photo: Muntakim Saad

Around 12:30pm, BNP Standing Committee Member Mirza Abbas along with several hundred supporters marched towards the party office and staged a showdown, witnesses said.

Law enforcers then asked the BNP activists to clear half of the lane they were occupying, but the BNP men declined. Moments later, as a police vehicle moved into the crowd, several persons were hit and injured.

As the BNP men got into an altercation with the policemen, the law enforcers charged baton on some of them, triggering a chase and counter chase.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells while BNP activists hurled brickbats at them, creating panic among locals in the entire area, according to witnesses.

At one stage, two police vehicles, including the one that moved towards the crowd, were vandalised and torched.

A man wearing a helmet was seen hitting the windshield of one of the two police cars with a chair while another man was spotted lighting a match to torch the car, said witnesses. Photos of the incident did rounds on social media sites yesterday.

Additional policemen along with fire fighters arrived there around 1:00pm, but they could not reach the scene as BNP activists blocked the road. Some BNP men were seen setting fire to placards.

Photo: Mohammad Al-Masum Molla

Carrying sticks, party supporters in small groups marched from the central office to the Bijoynagar intersection where police put up a barricade.

Holding posters of Khaleda Zia, BNP men chanted slogans, demanding her release.

BNP Joint Secretary General Rizvi Ahmed was seen speaking over loudspeakers in front of the party office. He was urging the party men to calm down.

"Police attacked us unprovoked. They opened fire.

"I condemn the police brutality. But we will not create chaos. We will maintain a peaceful atmosphere here," he called out to the party men.

The sale of nomination forms was suspended from 1:00pm to 2:30pm.

Photo: Muntakim Saad

Around 6:00pm, both sides of the road in front of the BNP office were cleared.

Monirul Islam, additional commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said a small team of seven to eight policemen was deployed in the area for the last few days as the sale of nomination forms at the BNP office was peaceful.

But around 1:15pm yesterday, hundreds of BNP men gathered in the area, blocking the road.

"When seven to eight policemen requested them to clear the road, they attacked the law enforcers. As another police patrol team came to the rescue of the small team, BNP men also attacked them," he claimed.

"They attacked police without any provocation," Monirul said, adding that 13 policemen and ansar men were injured.

"Police showed utmost patience," he added.

Talking to reporters, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, “The attack on our leaders and activists has affected the polls-time atmosphere. We condemn this.”

Photo: Muntakim Saad

Meanwhile, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader alleged that the BNP activists led by Abbas swooped on police without any provocation, reports UNB.

At a press conference at AL president's Dhanmondi office, he said the party chief while addressing the nomination seekers at the Gono Bhaban had urged all to show patience.

She also thanked the police for not launching any counterattack, said Quader.

"Today's incident showed that their intention is not to join the election but to foil it and oust the popular government of Sheikh Hasina," he added.

Briefing reporters at his Secretariat office, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the attack on police and torching of the vehicles were "pre-planned".

He claimed that BNP leaders and activists launched the attack to foil the December 30 election.

Talking to a private TV channel last night, DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said three cases were filed in connection with the incident.

Examining CCTV footage, police already arrested 40 people involved in “anarchy” and also identified 30 others, he added.

On Tuesday night, the Election Commission asked law enforcement agencies to take steps against the nomination aspirants staging showdown during collection or submission of nomination papers.

Photo: Star/ Amran Hossain

In a letter, the EC said, “It has been learnt from print and electronic media reports that following the announcement of the election schedule, possible candidates of different political parties are holding rallies and staging showdowns with motorbikes and other vehicles while collecting nomination papers, which is a clear violation of section 8 of the electoral code of conduct.”

The EC instructed the law enforcement agencies to ensure that no such thing happens during submission of nomination papers at the offices of returning officers or assistant returning officers.

When the ruling AL sold nomination forms from November 9 to 12 at its Dhanmondi party office, the area saw gridlock because of the processions brought out by nomination seekers and their supporters. They blocked the roads and also brought out motorbike processions.

Photo: Star/ Amran Hossain

Similar was the situation in the Naya Paltan area when the BNP started selling nomination forms on Monday.

Briefing reporters at the EC office in Agargaon on Tuesday night, Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam said the gathering in front of the party office by nomination aspirants and activists did not violate the electoral code of conduct.

"This is quite normal. The gathering of activists and supporters with the nomination aspirants in front of their party office is by no means a violation of the electoral code of conduct," he mentioned.