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Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Bangladesh opposition warning
Rioters hurl firebombs during protests several years ago
Law and order was seen to be spiralling out of control
Bangladesh's main opposition party has reacted angrily to a big anti-crime drive which has seen two of its senior leaders arrested and the houses of others aided.


It is now clear that the troops have been brought to silence the opposition

Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina
The opposition initially welcomed the move to deploy the army to curb crime, but warned that it should be allowed to work independently.

The Awami League leader, Sheikh Hasina, has warned the country's armed forces to remain neutral and not to bow to what she said was government pressure to harass the opposition

At a news conference in Dhaka Ms Hasina said: "Former ministers, national leaders and even MPs are not being spared.

"They are being arrested without any allegation or warrant. Such unlawful and illegal conduct is not acceptable in a democracy."

Deaths

As troops and police continue a massive nationwide campaign aimed at restoring law and order, a fourth man has died in army custody.

The death comes amid growing concern that the army is using excessive force in the crime crackdown.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia
The PM's supporters are among those arrested

Thirty-year-old trader Afzal Hossain, the latest detainee to lose his life, was among more than 2,000 suspected criminals rounded up so far.

His family say he was tortured to death.

In the cases of the three earlier deaths in army custody, similar allegations were made by the victims' families - all were strenuously denied by the government.

Police records show Mr Hossain was picked up by the army on Monday and died while being held and interrogated.

Police officials say they are waiting for the post mortem report to determine the cause of death.

Suspects

The opposition has threatened a series of strikes and protests after the arrests of its leaders and many supporters.

The government, under pressure to curb rising crime, insists the arrests are not politically-motivated and that many of its own supporters are among those detained.

Under the crackdown, former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad has been barred from travelling abroad, it emerged on Tuesday.

The 72-year-old, convicted of corruption and jailed more than once since being ousted in 1990, said he had been stopped from boarding a flight to Singapore.

Former ministers Sheikh Fazlul Karim and Saber Hossain Chowdhury, both members of the opposition Awami League, were arrested on Sunday night.

No details of charges against them have been given.

Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina said the army must be "neutral"
Mr Chowdhury, who once headed the Bangladesh cricket board, is currently working as the political secretary to opposition leader Sheikh Hasina.

The Awami League says the anti-crime drive "will create confusion and suspicion among people about the ultimate objective".

"It is now clear that the troops have been brought to silence the opposition," Sheikh Hasina told reporters on Tuesday.

Nearly 40,000 members of the armed forces are assisting police in the wave of mass arrests.

A total of 2,460 murders were recorded in Bangladesh in the first nine months of 2002 - almost a 10% increase on the previous year.

In September, the United Nations issued a detailed report strongly urging the Bangladeshi Government to reform the country's criminal justice system.

See also:

18 Oct 02 | South Asia
17 Oct 02 | South Asia
17 Jun 02 | South Asia
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
02 Apr 02 | South Asia
16 Feb 02 | South Asia
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