UPDATES BELOW AS EVENTS UNFOLD
It started yesterday when army men who rule now by the gun in Bangladesh behaved as is their nature:
The initial cause of the demonstrations was an incident around 3.30pm yesterday when army personnel mercilessly beat three DU [Dhaka University] students and humiliated a teacher over a petty dispute concerning comments passed by spectators watching a soccer match on the university gymnasium ground where an army camp is situated.
The soccer match was between the departments of public administration and journalism. During a penalty shoot Mehedi Mohammad, a student of the public administration department stood up in front of a group of army personnel, obscuring their view.
Army members allegedly abused him verbally and asked him to move before beginning to beat Mehedi and his friends.
Mehedi along with Shafiq and Lucas all MSS students of public administration, and Dipu, a third year student of the same department, were taken to DMCH for treatment.
As Mubashsher Munayem, a teacher of public administration tried to stop the incident, the army personnel humiliated him too.
Events escalated from there as Dhaka University turned into a battlefield as police with rubber bullets fought running street battles with unarmed university students as frustration and anger with Bangladesh’s current military regime started to boil over. The students demanded the removal of an army camp set up within the Dhaka University campus, like many other places around the capital, since the army takeover of Bangladesh. Over 150 students were injured during the running street battles. Just before midnight an army Brigedier General arrived on campus to speak to the students. He pretended to be a professor as he approached the students. When the students recognized him they chased him off campus. Army generals do not take well to being humiliated.
Today the violence and protests have spread to at least four other universities around the country. There are reports of students burning effigies of Moeen U Ahmed, the army general who heads the military regime in Bangladesh.
Whether these protests are contained or spread into a fullscale protest against military rule remains to be seen. The situation is extremely fluid and changes hour to hour. Bangladesh has been on the brink as the military has been steadily consolidating control over the country in the last seven months. There is potential for more draconian measures by the Bangladesh military in response to open defiance by the students. There is also a potential of a counter-coup as enterprising junior officers of the military decide they are better megalomaniacs than the general in charge now.
There are bloody days ahead for Bangladesh as democracy continues to be strangled.
UPDATE (8/22/2007 6:53 AM): The situation has gone from bad to worse. Protests and rioting apparently have spread throughout the country and is not limited to university campuses. The government will apparently impose an indefinite curfew at 8Pm Bangladesh time today. I am still trying to confirm this. Bangladeshi blogger ShadaKalo ominously reports the following:
The 3 service chiefs met with US and UK embassy officials and UN officials for an all-nighter. The martial-law question came up, and was put on hold for the time being but that option is not off the table.
News reports are sketchy and not all information coming out of Bangladesh is accurate. I will update as more details are confirmed.
UPDATE (8/22/2007 7:43 AM): According to news reports, government has imposed a curfew beginning at 8PM. The government has ordered all universities closed and dormitories vacated by 8PM but Dhaka University Vice Chancellor is resisting the order. BDNews24 reports the following:
Dhaka, Aug 22 (bdnews24.com) – The government Wednesday ordered all universities across the country and colleges in divisional towns to shut indefinitely.
Students have been asked to vacate dormitories by 8:00pm Wednesday.
But Dhaka University acting vice chanecellor AFM Yusuf Haider said the DU did not take any decision for dormitory vacation.
"Any decision asking students to leave dormitories has to be made by the university administration," he said.
Meantime, students took to the streets proetsting the order for a curfew and hall vacation.
Secretary of DU Teachers Association Anwar Hossain said the government cannot make such a decision. "Dhaka University is an autonomous body," he said.
All decisions must be made by the DU syndicate, he asserted.
Commenter on E-Bangladesh is reporting that Mainul Hossein, outspoken Law Advisor to the government, was humiliated on air by CSB television:
The female newsreader made a fool of Moinul.
He was on live news with her. He said all the students from the dorms asked to leave their rooms. She asked is it practical to ask them to leave now when it’s almost 5pm and a curfew’s being declared from 8pm? How will all the students from very far able to go home? He just went silent and cut off the lines. Then a claps heard in CSB news studio!
CTG is plotting to arrest students tonight. Since most of them will not be able to leave their dorms, police may attack them later at night. They are planning to switch off power of DU area from 8pm.
UPDATE (8/22/2007 8:00 AM): Translating from Somewhere in… (in Bengali), Rezwan reporting that cell phone networks are being shut down from 6pm to 9pm (Bangladesh time) in Bangladesh. This is an ominous sign of an impending military crackdown.
UPDATE (8/22/2007 8:37 AM): BBC now reporting on the indefinite curfew and the spreading protests and violence. One person reported dead in the rioting so far:
Correspondents say the protests are growing, with non-students now joining in.
The BBC’s Qadir Kallol in Dhaka says slum dwellers, shop keepers, rickshaw pullers and businessmen joined stone-throwing students in violent and bloody demonstrations.
They confronted police who baton charged them and fired tear gas.
Our correspondent says the protests appear to be growing more violent across the country, and are turning into a popular movement demanding the immediate restoration of democracy.
The first casualty of the unrest was a rickshaw puller killed during rioting on Wednesday in the north-western town of Rajshahi, officials said.
Police are accused of using tear gas indiscriminately, at one point on Tuesday even firing it into a female students’ dormitory at Dhaka University to prevent them from joining the protests.
The epicenter of the protests appears to be Dhaka University where the students are set to defy a government order to vacate the dormitories by 8 PM tonight. There is history here. On the night of March 25, 1971 the Pakistan army slaughtered students in Dhaka University dormitories in the opening salvo of the war that led to Bangladesh’s independence. If the government chooses to crack down on Dhaka University the symbolism will not be lost on anyone. The military government now stands at a cross-roads. All signs are that it will crack down on the students and impose martial law. It may choose to backpadel and look for a face-saving exit strategy. However, given that it has decimated the political parties any deal it cuts to secure its exit may not hold. That prospect probably makes the odds of a severe crackdown or a counter-coup within the military more likely.
UPDATE (8/22/2007 12:25 PM): Cell phone lines remain down. International Herald Tribune is now reporting on the cell phone blackout. Television and press have been ordered to not report on the protests. The streets of Dhaka are empty as the indefinite curfew has taken hold. Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, the civilian face of this military government, addresses the nation at 9:30PM in a short speech. He called for calm and gave no indication of what was to come next. There is widespread fear of a military crackdown and martial law.
UPDATE (8/22/2007 3:00 PM): BDNews24 is reporting that journalists were arrested and released by the military after curfew was imposed, presumably for reporting about the protests against the government. Some of the journalists were beaten up:
Dhaka, Aug 22 (bdnews24.com)—The police have released up to 12 journalists, two hours after their arrest during the curfew Wednesday night, police and reporters said.
Asif Ahmed Rommo, senior sub-editor of bdnews24.com, who was arrested along with two colleagues, phoned the office from home after his release.
"I walked home. We were kept at Mohammadpur Police Station for two hours," Rommo said.
Mohammadpur police sub-inspector Muktar Hossain told bdnews24.com that all the journalists were freed.
Scores of journalists were arrested or beaten by the army during the first few hours of the curfew.
Army officers arrested three journalists—Liton Haider, Biplob Rahman and Rommo—as they were heading home after work.
They were stopped at a checkpoint, 200 metres from the bdnews24.com office in Dhanmondi.
After the arrest, the driver of the autorickshaw they were travelling in returned to break the news that the three were taken away by uniformed officers even after they showed their press ID cards.
Earlier, a group of army personnel beat two bdnews24.com journalists as they were standing outside their office with colleagues.
The army also severely beat Sanaul Haque, a New Age photographer, the newspaper’s acting chief reporter Shahiduzzaman told bdnews24.com.
Anis Alamgir, head of news for private TV station Baishakhi, was also arrested and taken to Mohammadpur Police Station.
Abdul Majid, a journalist of Samokal, was also arrested and taken to Mohammadpur Police Station. It was not clear where he was arrested.
Reports from Dhaka indicate that the army is moving through the city, presumably toward Dhaka University.
UPDATE (8/22/2007 8:09 PM): Via blogger Dhaka Shohor, the BBC reports from on the ground in Dhaka before the curfew went into effect. The BBC video shows Bangladeshis hurrying home before the curfew with their hands above their heads to show security forces that they are not involved in protests. It is a very sad state of affairs.
UPDATE (8/23/2007 2:20 PM): Bangladesh was virtually cut off from the rest of the world as the nation’s main data link to the outside world was mysteriously "sabotaged" at about the same time the curfew went into effect. During the curfew government forces detained and beat up a number of journalists. The government has also threatened two television stations for broadcasting "provocative" news items. The military raided several universities and residences in Dhaka and elsewhere – they have beat up students and university staff, and there are reports that some students have been beaten to death. All this is a likely response to picture no. 5 above. Look closely, its a picture of a student chasing a military man. As I had written earlier, Bangladesh military does not like being humiliated, so they use the boot and the butt of the rifle to make their point. Anyone that expects this bunch of thugs to usher in democracy in Bangladesh is kidding themselves.
The BBC reports from on the ground in Bangladesh about the fight between the government and the people:
After violent demonstrations in Bangladesh, the country’s military-backed caretaker government has apparently decided to confront and possibly suppress various sections of the population growing more restless by the day.
The caretaker government appears to have come to the conclusion that the demonstrations represented a real challenge to its authority – if not its continued existence.
In unprecedented scenes, soldiers in uniform were seen being chased out of the Dhaka university campus by students. In two days, the myth of the army’s omnipotence was all but laid to rest.
In response the government has done what military-led governments in Bangladesh have done in the past: it slapped a curfew on Dhaka and other cities, closed down all major public universities and colleges, and ordered all resident students to leave their dormitories.
Challenges to unelected governments in Bangladesh always originate on campuses, particularly the 86-year-old Dhaka University, often fondly called the Oxford of the East. Such governments always feel getting the students out of the campus is a must to restore peace.
The Economist sees the military government unraveling.