Initially spontaneous, later money involved
British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury yesterday described last week's demonstrations as initially spontaneous, which later took a sinister dimension because significant amount of money and coordination got involved.
He made these comments at the foreign ministry where all foreign envoys were summoned by the foreign adviser for a briefing about last week's demonstrations at Dhaka University and the subsequent imposition of a curfew.
"Our assessment from what we have heard is that it was initially spontaneous and then it was not. It became much more than the incident. It soon became something much bigger, something much sinister," said Anwar to the media, adding, "A lot of money and coordination came into the equation."
"We understood that it was a serious disturbance which has strategic consequences and we saw the government take quite concise and quite decisive action very quickly to try to bring the situation under control," he said referring to the government's decision to impose the curfew.
The Bangladeshi-born British envoy added, "Most neutral people could not understand why the escalation went into that dimension and that has caused a lot of question marks among the people."
No other envoy however was willing to speak to the media after the meeting.
Anwar said Britain's assessment that the incidents were coordinated, stemmed from the fact that the demonstrations continued even after the government had issued an apology and met the students' initial demands by withdrawing the army camp from the Dhaka University campus.
Foreign Adviser Iftekhar A Chowdhury later told the media that the government received the full support of the envoys, "At least, no one disagreed," he said.
"I told them that their [the diplomatic community's] safety is ensured during curfews," Iftekhar said adding, "The situation is fully under control. The aims and goals of the government will not be disturbed."
The British envoy also condemned the reported harassment and beatings of journalists and called for an investigation, but added that the media could have exercised 'restraint' in their coverage for the sake of progress of the country.
Pressed for comments on the beatings and harassment of journalists by law enforcers during and between the curfews, Anwar said, "I condemn the incidents. I am really sorry to hear about that, I wish those didn't take place. I hope the authorities will look into it and take action."
But, when asked about the requests for 'self-censorship', Anwar said the media was allowed to be 'very free' since the state of emergency had been declared. "All parties should act responsibly so the country can progress. So if you [the media] exercise restraint then it might also contribute to the country's progress," he added.
Asked about the detained university teachers, Anwar quoted Iftekhar as saying that the government will release those detained individuals who will be found not connected to last week's incidents, but it will spare no one connected.
"They are making a lot of progress on a critical path, lot of reforms…but 18 months are a long time and you would expect some bumps on the road," he said stressing that the government cannot be distracted from the goal of holding general elections by the end of 2008.
But, he did call for 'calm on all sides' and asked for due process to be followed and respect for human rights.
Asked whether he thinks that the demonstrations were an expression of the people's resentment against the government's policies in the past seven months, Anwar said, "Price hike of essentials is a problem for the country, but at the same time they are doing a lot of good work and they are on target to meet the election roadmap deadlines."
"That's what it should be about [election]...it should be held without any disruption in the process," he added.