DHAKA: Bangladesh opposition protesters were set to march on Dhaka on Sunday in a bid to derail controversial January 5 elections, despite a police ban amid fears of widespread violence.
The opposition, which is boycotting the polls, has been predicting that up to a million people will descend on the capital in an effort to pressurize Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to halt what it describes as a “farcical” election.
Police have banned the so-called March for Democracy amid fears that the rally would become a focal point for more unrest after what has already been the deadliest year for political violence in the country’s history.
Police have detained more than 1,000 opposition supporters as a “preventive measure,” while authorities have suspended Dhaka-bound bus, ferry and train services, virtually cutting off the city from the rest of the country.
“It seems the government has imposed an undeclared shutdown in the country,” Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a leading opposition figure, said late Saturday.
Alamgir urged supporters to defy the ban and march to central Dhaka where Khaleda Zia, leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was expected to address a mass rally on Sunday afternoon.
It was unclear whether Zia would herself make it to the rally, with supporters accusing authorities of keeping her under de facto house arrest since Wednesday.
Five sand-laden trucks have been parked in front of the gate of Zia’s residence, apparently in a bid to prevent her leaving.