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TENS of thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Bangladesh’s capital on Saturday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.
The protesters are also demanding that a new caretaker prime minister be appointed before next general elections which are expected to be held in early 2024.
The supporters of the centre-right Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, reached the protest venue in Dhaka overnight amid tight security while Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan warned of dire consequences in case of violence from the rally.
Ms Hasina and her ruling Awami League party, which returned to power in 2018 for the third consecutive time, have repeatedly ruled out the opposition’s demand, saying a caretaker government goes against the spirit of the country’s constitution.
Saturday’s rally was the 10th from the main opposition party after it announced in September that it will hold protests in 10 big cities.
All the previous rallies outside Dhaka drew huge crowds despite challenges, including what the party said were politically motivated transport strikes and intimidation by security agencies and the ruling party.
Both police and the ruling party denied such allegations.
The rally in Dhaka was held during heightened tension after police stormed the party headquarters following clashes between police and opposition supporters on Wednesday, leaving at least one dead and 50 injured.
Police arrested more than 400 opposition activists.
On Friday, detectives raided homes of two senior party leaders, including secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
Both were denied bail.
Zahiruddin Swapan, a former opposition lawmaker and party spokesman, said: “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.
“They came to power through vote rigging and intimidation.”
Faruk Hossain, of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said that the rally had no more than 60,000 people.
But witnesses said up to 100,000 opposition activists joined the rally.
The BNP boycotted the election in 2014, and the results of the vote in 2018 were disputed because of allegations of vote rigging by the ruling party, which won with an overwhelming majority.
On Saturday, seven BNP lawmakers at the rally announced their resignations from Parliament.
The United Nations issued a statement on Wednesday calling for the government to allow free expression, peaceful assembly and fair elections.
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