Bangladesh opposition chief faces murder case probe
DHAKA - Bangladesh authorities Monday ordered a probe into allegations of murder against opposition chief Khaleda Zia and arrested a media magnate as two more people were shot dead in spiralling political unrest.
Although experts said it was unlikely that the accusations filed in a private lawsuit would result in charges against Zia, they will add to the pressure on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader who has been struggling to topple the government through a transport blockade.
The order by a magistrate for police to probe the allegations came hours after the owner of a private television channel was arrested after a meeting with Zia in her Dhaka headquarters.
"Metropolitan Magistrate Atiqur Rahman ordered the Gulshan police in Dhaka to investigate the complaint and submit a report by March 1," Ashiqur Rahman, a court official, told AFP.
A lawyer for the plaintiff, pro-government activist A. B. Siddiqi, said Zia was responsible for the death of 42 people killed after opposition activists firebombed buses and trucks in a wave of protests.
"She is to blame for the death of 42 innocent people as she ordered her supporters to attack vehicles with petrol bombs," said lawyer Roushonara Sikder Daizy.
The 69-year-old leader, who has been holed up in her office since January 3, has already been charged by police with lesser crimes including "abetting" and "instigating" the firebombings.
Zia called the protests early last month. She urged supporters to enforce a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to call a fresh general election.
The opposition boycotted the last poll in January 2014 on the grounds the result would be rigged.
The protests have triggered widespread violence that left at least 46 people dead -- mostly victims of firebombing attacks on buses and lorries.
In the latest deaths, two activists from the BNP-allied Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party were shot dead allegedly by police, including a 23-year-old student.
More than 10,000 opposition activists have been arrested, including dozens of front-rank officials. Others have gone into hiding.
The latest high-profile arrest was that of Mosaddek Ali Falu, the chairman of private station Ntv, who was seen being driven away by police soon after leaving Zia's office on Sunday night.
"He was arrested on charges of arson attack on a vehicle," Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP on Monday.
Falu has been one of the closest aides of Zia and was her political secretary when she was premier from 2001-06. He owns an array of businesses, including a new online news portal which launched on Sunday.
Last month Abdus Salam, the owner of Bangladesh's oldest private TV station, was arrested after his channel aired a speech by Zia's fugitive son live from London.
Salam has since been charged with sedition, which could see him sentenced to life in jail for airing the speech.
Anti-government protesters have over the past four weeks torched or damaged 843 buses, cars and lorries.
The deepening unrest has hit the economy and disrupted school examinations. The government was forced to postpone high school graduation tests for 1.5 million students.
Suspected saboteurs, meanwhile, removed clips from railway tracks, causing a packed train to derail as the blockade entered a fifth week.
State-run Bangladesh Railway officials said the locomotive and two coaches came off the tracks in the southeast early Monday, snapping the rail link between the port city of Chittagong and the rest of the country.
"It was an act of sabotage by the protesters. No one has been arrested," BR's spokesman Syed Zahurul Islam told AFP.
The derailing occurred despite the government's deployment last month of more than 8,000 village police guards along the 3,000 kilometre (1,875 mile) rail network.