Bangladesh opposition chief defiant despite siege

Bangladesh opposition chief defiant despite siege

DHAKA - Bangladesh's besieged opposition leader accused Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Monday of trying to cling on to power by force, as police clamped down on protests on the first anniversary of Hasina's re-election.

Riot police are confining Khaleda Zia, firebrand leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to her office to stop her leading rallies in protest at alleged vote-rigging a year ago.

"Not only am I prisoner, but the whole of the country is being held captive. What kind of country are we living in?" said Zia.

At least four people were killed in clashes between followers of Zia's BNP, police and the ruling Awami League, highlighting the prevailing instability in a country that has seen around a dozen coups in its short history.

The two women, who have ruled Bangladesh for most of the last three decades, are bitter rivals. Their enmity flared up once again after Zia was confined to her office over the weekend.

The siege intensified on Monday as security forces parked a convoy of trucks laden with sand and bricks outside the office compound. They then padlocked the gates to prevent Zia from leading protests designed to force fresh elections.

When dozens of her supporters tried to break the siege, riot police fired pepper spray at them. Television footage showed BNP members wiping away tears after they tried to prise open the compound gates.

Zia could be seen sitting in her car, with the engine revving. She later spoke to journalists who managed to sneak over the wall.

"This government is illegal because it was not elected by the people. They sprayed pepper at us. It is not a normal situation. Is the country facing a war?" said the two-time former prime minister, calling the government "illegal" and urging people to join protests.

"They want to hang on to power people by bullets, tear gas and bombs." "The protests will continue... No dictator can cling onto power like this," she added despite her apparent failure to break the blockade of the compound in Dhaka's upmarket Ghulshan district.

Zia's confinement evoked memories of voting day on January 5, 2014, when she was prevented by riot police from leaving the compound.

The BNP was one of 20 opposition parties which boycotted last year's election, claiming that the outcome would be rigged.

Hasina, in power since 2009, had refused to step down before the election so the poll could be organised by a neutral caretaker administration.

The boycott meant most members in the 300-seat parliament were returned unopposed, handing Hasina another five years in power.

Voting was overshadowed by firebomb attacks on polling booths and clashes which left around 25 people dead.

Twelve months on, there were similar scenes in cities and towns around the country.

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