Rally permitted with conditions
The BNP can hold today's rallies in Dhaka and Chittagong, but there are conditions.
In a major political development, the government is allowing the party to rally where it will demonstrate against the January 5 parliamentary election in 2014.
Metropolitan police in Dhaka and Chittagong yesterday gave permission to the BNP and the ruling Awami League to hold rallies with their own narratives to mark the second anniversary of the polls.
The police permission, however, comes with a set of conditions. The rallies would be allowed "on limited scale" for security, it said.
The government took this positive decision at the last moment while some AL leaders had earlier directed party leaders and activists to resist BNP men from occupying the streets today.
"We want to give the BNP space for politics. Therefore, we allowed them to hold the rally," a senior AL leader said.
"The law enforcement agencies will remain alert against BNP men trying to create anarchy," he added.
Asked about the reason to permit the BNP rally, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, "We are for democracy and we want functional politics. We want the BNP to observe programmes lawfully. We want the BNP to return to democratic ways, leaving destructive politics."
Last year, the government did not allow the BNP-led alliance to hold a rally to observe January 5, the first anniversary of last parliamentary polls, as "democracy killing day.”
The opposition could not even get on the streets to protest the government's denial because of tough police action.
Instead, AL workers took over the streets to observe "victory day for democracy."
In protest, the BNP started a countrywide non-stop blockade for nearly three months from January 6. Street violence killed at least 95 people and hurt about 1,500 others, mostly in firebombing of transports.
This time tension rose as the AL also wanted to hold rally at Suhrawardy Udyan, where the BNP had already planned its rally and asked for permission.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police then said neither party would be allowed to use the location. Both parties then asked police permission for rallies in front of their offices.
The situation remained uncertain as last year police had not permitted the BNP to hold a planned rally in front of its office. Police had also banned rallies in the capital on January 5.
The BNP was desperate for the rally last year defying police ban. But this year, the party made it clear it would not go for confrontation.
BNP's acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir yesterday morning again confirmed his party's view at a press conference.
Around noon, Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon announced the DSCC gave permission to the AL and the BNP to hold rallies in front of their offices today.
Later in the afternoon, DMP announced its conditional permission to the parties. DMP also warned of actions if there were untoward incidents during the rallies.
"We gave permission to both parties by assessing security threats and recommendations of local police," DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said in a media conference.
The AL would now hold two rallies, one in front of its party central office on Bangabandhu Avenue and the other at Russell Square to mark the day as “Victory Day for Democracy”.
It thus changed its earlier decision to occupy 18 strategic points in the capital to resist the BNP.
"We've changed our decision after request from the Dhaka Metropolitan Police,” AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif told reporters after meeting city unit leaders at the party's central office.
The BNP would be holding its rally in front of its central office at Nayapaltan, marking the day as “Democracy Killing Day” and it will be addressed by its chief Khaleda Zia.
The party is observing the day alone this time. It has decided to distance itself from anti-liberation Jamaat-e-Islami, its key ally, to avoid criticism, said BNP insiders.
The BNP and Jamaat boycotted the 2014 election because their demand for election under a nonparty caretaker administration was not agreed to by Sheikh Hasina.
The party is making “all-out efforts” to ensure a big show in the rally today. Khaleda Zia will be the chief guest.
“We are going to organise a rally in front of the central office after four years. That's why we want a record gathering,” Fazlul Haque Milon, an organising secretary of the BNP, told The Daily Star last night.
The BNP chairperson last night also met senior party leaders at her office. An assistant office secretary of the party said Khaleda is likely to come to the rally after 2:00pm.
Visiting the AL and BNP central offices around 11:00pm, The Daily Star correspondents found that the ruling party was yet to start the work of setting up stage in front of its office, while the BNP had taken almost half of the road to set up stage in front of its office.
The AL rally in the port city will be held at the Central Shaheed Minar, said Badiul Alam, vice president of Chittagong city unit AL. “Our programme will start at 3:00pm.”
BNP Chittagong city unit president Ameer Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury said their rally would be held in front of the party office. It will start at 2:00pm.
Contacted, CMP Commissioner Abdul Jalil Mondol said they permitted the two parties to rally on condition that traffic was not obstructed.