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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Bangladesh changes security law
Demonstrators hurl firebombs during protests
Improving law and order is a priority for the government
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By Moazzem Hossain
BBC correspondent in Dhaka
line

The Bangladeshi parliament scrapped a controversial anti-terror law on Tuesday.

Human rights groups say the legislation was often used to harass political opponents instead of targeting criminals.

Driver trying to put out fire on a bus set by anti-government protesters
Thousands detained under the old law were political activists, not criminals

The government is now proposing a new security bill which provides for summary trial for a number of street crimes and acts of vandalism.

It says the aim of the new law is to curb crime and ensure a speedy trial, not to harass the opposition.

However, Bangladesh's leading human rights activists have expressed doubts about the government's intentions.

The controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) was passed by the previous Awami League government with the aim of tackling crime and improving law and order.

It gave the authorities sweeping powers to arrest and detain those they saw as enemies of the country.

Polarised politics

Thousands of people detained under the law were later released by the new government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on the grounds that they were political activists, not criminals.

On Tuesday, as parliament scrapped the PSA, the cabinet approved a new security law to replace it.

Dhaka riot policemen waiting
Police corruption is said to compound problems

Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Moudud Ahmed said the aim of the new law was to ensure speedy trial for certain kinds of street crimes.

He said under the proposed law, police investigation must be completed within a week and then the magistrate's court would deal with cases in 30 days.

Mr Ahmed assured the opposition that the proposed law would not be used against them.

However, the main opposition party, the Awami League, has labelled it another "black law" to suppress the opposition.

Human rights groups fear that the proposed law would be used in the same fashion as the PSA was to infringe civil liberty.

Spiralling crime

When the coalition government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party took power last October, Khaleda Zia said improving law and order would be her top priority.

But analysts say during the last six months, her government has largely failed to deliver on that promise.

The latest crime figures released on Monday by three independent human rights organisations show that in last month alone 258 people were murdered.

More than 100 women were raped across the country in the same period.

See also:

11 Mar 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh law and order promise
08 Mar 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh protest against acid attacks
04 Mar 02 | South Asia
Bank robbers strike terror in Dhaka
16 Feb 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh cracks down on crime
10 Dec 01 | South Asia
Dhaka lynchings spread alarm
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