Closed, nervy city braces for today
Almost all highways and waterways leading to the capital remain blocked, hotels and guesthouses closed and intra-city traffic movements restricted -- all in frantic government attempts to keep opposition activists and supporters from joining the BNP rally today.
Unprecedented highhandedness of the law enforcers and intelligence men caused immense sufferings to people and bred panic and confusion yesterday.
Virtually under siege, the city was on edge as the spectre of violence rose with the government appearing hell-bent on frustrating the opposition's plan for the “biggest rally in recent times” to press for the restoration of the caretaker government system.
The BNP and its allies have said their programme will succeed no matter how hard the “government tries to foil it”.
The BNP standing committee last night met to discuss the agitation programmes that Khaleda Zia will announce at the rally, to be held before the party's Nayapaltan headquarters.
City dwellers, meanwhile, had an awful day yesterday as unofficial restrictions by the government made commuting difficult.
Office-goers and students were the worst sufferers. Amid panic and an acute shortage of public transport, they got to their destinations after long, painful hours on the road.
In the morning, thousands of commuters waited long hours for buses and other modes of transport. While the strong ones elbowed their way into the few vehicles that were on the roads, many had to walk miles to reach their workplaces.
Aminul Islam, who works at a private bank, was one of those who bore the brunt of the ordeal. After waiting for over two hours at Azampur bus stand in Uttara, he quit trying to go to his Motijheel office and went back home.
"Do you call it democracy?" an irate Aminul asked. "The government through its activities is causing panic among the public," he told The Daily Star.
Making the most of the situation, cabbies, rickshaw-pullers and drivers of CNG-run three-wheelers charged astronomically high fares.
Lutful Hasan, a private firm official, said he had a very important job to do at Motijheel. He had to shell out Tk 700 for a cab ride from Pallabi to Motijheel.
To make matters worse, in many places ruling Awami League men joined the law enforcers in trying to ensure that few buses were on the streets. Drivers and their assistants complained how they had been dragged out of their vehicles and beaten up by government supporters for being on the roads.
Some owners alleged that AL activists at Mirpur-11 even snatched money from the staff of their buses.
"Around 25 local Awami League men had our bus pull over at Mirpur-11 at 5:45pm. They started beating up the driver and his helper and took away around Tk 4,500 from them for operating the bus," one owner told The Daily Star in return for anonymity.
Similar was the story in the case of at least a half-dozen other buses.
Traffic on the highways connecting the capital with the rest of the country was thin. Owners took their vehicles off the road, complying with informal government instructions and fearing vandalism and police harassment.
Things were not different on the waterways either.
A few buses which entered the city were searched thoroughly at different entry points.
Soon after sundown, shop owners pulled down the shutters in different parts of the capital, fearing an eruption of violence. Police remained active driving vendors away from pavements.
To avoid harassment and sudden raids, many city hoteliers have already stopped taking any boarders.
Although there was no official announcement or instructions for educational institutions, many schools and colleges opted to cancel classes.
Several thousand people were arrested across the country in the last three days including 2,849 on Thursday and 3,616 on Friday.
Police headquarters sources said they detained several hundred on Saturday but could not give any figure for yesterday till filing this report at 1:45am.