Bangladesh economy hit hard by blockade: Business chief

Bangladesh economy hit hard by blockade: Business chief

DHAKA - A rolling transport blockade organised by the opposition is taking a huge toll on Bangladesh's economy, with the vital garment industry hit particularly hard, a business leader warned Sunday.

Opposition leader Khaleda Zia called the open-ended blockade of roads, railways and waterways after she was confined to her office by police on January 3 while trying to mobilise anti-government protests.

In the nine days that Zia has been locked in her office, supporters of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have taken to the streets in their hundreds, torching vehicles and even derailing trains by removing tracks.

The country's top business chamber told AFP the transport sector alone had been losing two billion taka (S$34.38 million) a day since the blockade began, with at least 200,000 buses and lorries kept off the road for fear of attacks.

"The disruption in the transport sector has created immense troubles for the passengers and also hampered supply of goods," said Kazi Akramuddin Ahmed, president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

"Farmers are the worst sufferers. Their vegetables are rotting on the fields," he said, adding they were "deeply concerned" at the worsening political crisis.

Zia leads a 20-party opposition alliance which boycotted a general election last year on the grounds it would be rigged. She has said the blockade will continue until Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina agrees to new polls organised by a caretaker government.

At least 162 buses, lorries and cars have been torched while hundreds more have been damaged.

Train schedules have also gone haywire after several major services were derailed, leaving at least 50 people injured.

On Sunday one person died in a hospital in Dhaka after he was firebombed on a bus, police said, bringing the toll in the unrest to nine. At least 250 people have been injured, including 86 policemen.

Authorities have provided guards for buses and lorries carrying shipments to the ports. The paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh has said it alone has provided security to some 3,000 buses and trucks.

Ahmed said garment manufacturers, who account for 80 per cent of the country's US$27.3 billion annual exports, fear the worst since a prolonged blockade could prompt Western retailers to divert orders to other nations.

"The impact has not been visible yet, but the supply chain has been disrupted and naturally garment sector won't be immune from the fallout," he said.

Bangladesh is the world's second largest garment exporter after China. The sector provides jobs for four million people, mostly women, and has spurred economic growth to over six per cent a year in the last decade.

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