The countrywide half-day shutdown enforced by Left Democratic Alliance (LDA) protesting the recent gas price hike passed peacefully yesterday.
The alliance also announced a fresh programme that it would lay siege to the power, energy, and mineral resources ministry on July 14, if the government did not withdraw its decision on increasing the gas price immediately.
During the hartal, supporters of LDA, a coalition of eight left-leaning political parties, took position at the capital’s key points around 7:00am and blocked Shahbagh and Purana Paltan intersections for about five hours, causing gridlocks on surrounding streets.
Chanting slogans against the gas price hike, the pickets brought out processions and paraded through Purana Paltan, Nightingale intersection, Zero Point and Jatiya Press Club areas.
The protesters said the government illogically increased the gas price and the hike would raise people’s daily expenditures.
During the picketing, windows of two buses were smashed and one biker was assaulted in Purana Paltan area.
People were seen going to work while students went to their institutions. A few of them were closed.
Around 9:00am, the situation became tense when pickets halted a bus and broke its windows at Purana Paltan intersection following an altercation with the driver. Police detained two protesters from the spot, but they were later freed.
Activists of Pragatisheel Chhatra Jote, an alliance of left-leaning student organisations, staged a sit-in at Shahbagh Intersection in support of the hartal and were seen torching tyres on the streets.
Nagarik Oikya, which extended its support to the hartal, also joined the protest.
According to the new gas price effective from this month, households using a single burner will pay Tk 925 instead of Tk 750 a month. Double-burner users will pay Tk 975 instead of Tk 800.
The average gas tariff for all users, including households, industries and businesses, rose by 32.8 percent.
Several opposition political parties, including BNP, Gonoforum, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD Rob), extended their support to LDA’s strike.
Attending a rally at the Purana Paltan intersection, Zonayed Saki, chief coordinator of Ganosamhati Andolon, said many expressed solidarity with the protest. “But only solidarity is not enough. They should take to the streets to launch a mass movement.”
He said the government was giving an excuse that the gas price hike would help it bear the expense of importing liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“If India can import LNG at $6 per cubic feet, why Bangladesh is getting it for $10? There is no answer,” he said, alleging that the government was importing it only to serve some companies who would deal with the business of LNG in future.
Saki added that the country’s people welcomed the protest.
The LDA observed the strike across the country, including Chattogram, Sylhet, and Barishal.
Jahangirnagar University students blocked the Dhaka-Aricha highway for two and a half hours from 8:00am. The protest led to long tailbacks on both sides of the highway.
At Rajshahi University, Pragatisheel Chhatra Jote held a sit-in for half an hour from 8:30am in front of the university main gate.
In Narayanganj, police obstructed pickets in Rail Gate-2 area around 9:30am. A battery-run auto-rickshaw was vandalised at that time.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said hartal lost its appeal as people hardly responded to such programmes.
“Hike in the gas price is realistic …,” said Quader, also Awami League general secretary, while addressing a press briefing in the capital yesterday.