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Thousands protest in Bangladesh against the ruling party

December 10, 2022

Saturday's protests come after a group of Western embassies called on the government to respect freedom of expression. Protests called for by the opposition party have been ongoing for weeks.

BNP protesteres in Dhaka, Bangladesh on December 10, 2022.
Protesters who support the opposition BNP party are calling on the prime minister to resign and install a caretaker governmentImage: Mortuza Rashed/DW

Thousands of opposition protesters took to the streets in Bangladesh's capita Dhaka on Saturday, calling for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign and install a caretaker government until elections are held in 2024.

Protesters mostly support the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is headed by the country's former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Seven BNP members of parliament announced their resignations during the protest. 

Protesters made it to Golapbagh in Dhaka on Friday night despite tight security. Opposition activists chanted slogans including "Down with Hasina" and "We want a fair election," the AP reported.

Why are the protests taking place?

Protests have been on the rise in recent months across Bangladesh, with protesters decrying power outages and the rise in energy prices.

Saturday's protests are essentially against Hasina and her ruling Awami League party, the BNP's biggest archrival. The Awami League party was voted into power for the third consecutive time in 2018.

However, the BNP challenged the results of the elections, accusing the Awami League party of rigging the vote.

Heavy security presence amid protests in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Protesters made it to Golapbagh in Dhaka on Friday night, despite tight securityImage: Mortuza Rashed/DW

Zahiruddin Swapan, a former two-time opposition lawmaker and party spokesman, told AP, "We want a free and fair election. To facilitate that, this repressive government must go, parliament must be dissolved, and a new election commission should be installed.''

He added, "They came to power through vote rigging and intimidation.''

What do we know about the politics behind the protests?

Saturday's protests were further ignited by the arrest of two BNP figures the day before.

The opposition party also accuses the authorities of arresting around 2,000 of its members and supporters since November 30.

The rally on Saturday was the 10th since the BNP announced the launch of protests in 10 big cities across the country in September. Previous rallies have drawn significant numbers as well.

BNP officials have claimed over a million supporters joined the rally, whereas police told the AP that the venue could not host more than 30,000 individuals.

Large crowds gather on the streets of Dhaka to join protests organized by the opposition BNP party on December 10, 2022.
BNP officials have claimed over a million supporters joined the rallyImage: Mortuza Rashed/DW

Eyewitnesses reported around 100,000 individuals in attendance.

The ruling party and Hasina have repeatedly dismissed the BNP's demand to install a caretaker government, saying it is against the state's constitution.

The BNP accused the government of orchestrating a transport strike to impact the protest turnout.

A question of allegiances

Historically allied with the US, the rule of Hasina has seen Bangladesh align with China more in recent years. 

China is funding several infrastructure projects in the country, worth billions of dollars, as part of China's Belt and Roads Initiative. Critics charge the program is a debt trap for nations that sign on.

Last Tuesday, the embassies of 15 Western countries, including the US and the UK in a joint statement, called on the government of Bangladesh to respect freedom of expression and the right to assembly, and to allow fair elections.

rmt/ar (AFP, AP)