Successful "Hartal" (general strike) in Bangladesh

A countrywide dawn-to-dusk hartal (Generel Strike) called by the left to protest against the government's certain wrongdoing and US war preparation against Iraq passed off by and large peacefully today Monday, March 10, in Bangladesh.

The leftwing 11-party Alliance called for the shutdown on its 12 demands, which include forcing the government to ditch its plans to export gas, halting price hikes of essential goods, and measures against corruption and nepotism, as well as calling for the reopening of closed industries.

The police picked up at least 15 hartal supporters from the Barisal, Jessore, Narayanganj, Savar and Tongi areas during the strike. And the Alliance leaders reported that the police also attacked marches in these areas. In the morning, leaders and supporters of the 11 parties led a march in the capital's Paltan area picketing for the hartal. Besides this, several other marches were also brought out in different parts of the capital.

No untoward incidents were reported, unlike Sunday's stormy police action against the left activists in the city. Buses on some routes, trains and launches were reported plying as usual, but motor traffic in the capital was much less than normal.

Schools and colleges were closed while operations in the markets and commercial establishments were disrupted.

Once the hartal was over, the 11-party leaders held a meeting at Muktangon congratulating their countrymen on having made the bandh a success "ignoring police action and obstruction from the government".

Addressing the rally, they said now is the time to stand against injustice and deprivation. They accused the BNP-Jamaat alliance government of imposing new taxes on the common people to ensure a cosy life for the ministers, bureaucrats and their party officials.

Warning the government, the leaders of the moderate left camp said the people would foil the government's move towards gas "smuggling" disguised as so-called exports. Making a swipe at the combination of the ruling coalition, the left leaders asked the government to drop the "razakers" from the cabinet of PM Khaleda Zia.

On the external front, the leaders also asked the world community to rise up in resistance to the US war against Iraq, saying: "America should disarm now as the world's peoples now are not safe in the hands of America". The meeting was addressed, among others, by Alhaj Abdus Samad, Monjurul Ahsan Khan, Rashed Khan Menon, Khalequzzaman, Nirmol Sen, Mujahidul Islam Selim, Bimol Biswas, AFM Mahbubul Haq, Bazlur Rashid Firoj and Ruhin Hossain Prince.

March 17, 2003.