ASIA/BANGLADESH - Political unrest and blockades: Catholic cathedral damaged

Tuesday, 31 October 2023 politics   human rights   religious minorities  

Dhaka (Agenzia Fides) - "Government and opposition politicians should engage in dialogue and not fuel political instability. Conflict and violence are not good for the country. We want peace. Our people have the right to live in peace", said Father Albert Rozario, parish priest of “St. Mary's Cathedral” in Dhaka as the country is troubled by political unrest that has also affected the Catholic cathedral in the capital. On October 28, the country's two largest opposition parties took to the streets in the capital Dhaka. Members of the largest opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), and the Islamic "Jamaat-e-Islami" had called for a demonstration in the country with a large Islamic majority and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the appointment of one caretaker government that will lead the country until parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2024. The demonstrations degenerated into clashes in the center of the capital that lasted several hours. Some protesters tried to enter the President of the Supreme Court’s house but were pushed back by police. Bangladeshi opposition leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, general secretary of the BNP, and more than 2,000 members of his party were arrested following the violent protests. They were charged with murder after a police officer was killed during the demonstrations. Alamgir has been at the helm of the BNP since Khaleda Zia, the party's president and two-time prime minister, was sentenced to prison for corruption and her son left the country. Khaled Zia, who has since become ill, is now under house arrest. The Catholic “St. Mary's Cathedral in Ramna, a district where the headquarters of the BNP is also located. The gate to the cathedral's courtyard was closed, but the angry crowd threw stones at the building and damaged three windows of the rectory where the priest lives. Father Albert Rozario called for "more security with a view to the coming months, because our cathedral is at a hotspot for political demonstrations." Christian leaders, meanwhile, have expressed disappointment over the damage to the church and called for greater attention and security for minority communities. Social and political tensions continue: The BNP, the Jamaat-e-Islami and other political parties have announced a three-day blockade that began this morning, October 31, as part of the anti-government movement demanding the resignation of the government. BNP General Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said the blockade would be maintained on all types of means of transport and communication: "I call on my countrymen to maintain the blockade until November 2. All roads, highways, railways and maritime transport will be affected." . According to observers, the political situation could worsen in the coming months as thousands of people have been taking to the streets for months, especially in the capital, to protest against the unsustainable rise in the prices of essential goods and fuel, as well as the increasingly frequent power outages and to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has ruled the Asian country since 2009. Today, October 31, thousands of workers in the textile sector in several industrial cities of Bangladesh, have abandoned their jobs to express their dissatisfaction with increasingly difficult working conditions, miserable wages and the high cost of living. Dozens of factories were devastated and there were clashes between demonstrators and police officers. The fiercest clashes took place in key industrial and textile centers not far from Dhaka, including Gazipur, Ashulia and Hemayetpur. BNP general secretary Moazzem Hossain Alal said: "The Awami League has been in power for three terms. Only if a technical executive manages the elections can a climate of compromise be created." Meanwhile, Awami League supporters also took to the streets to show their support for the government. Against this background, Aminul Islam, a university lecturer and political analyst, states: "Ordinary people are victims of the unrest of political parties. Bangladesh has been independent for 52 years and every five years there are social tensions and violence in the struggle to obtain power. The country's ordinary citizens are scared and worried." "The political parties," he continues, "think that the street is the place where problems are solved, instead of addressing them through discussion and dialogue. The street is the place where they show their strength. On the street, conflict easily inflicts violence and claims victims. A negotiation between the political parties is desirable and necessary to avoid violence and further loss of life". (PA-FC) (Agenzia Fides, 31/10/2023)