President Hussain Mohammed Ershad declared a state of emergency in Bangladesh on Friday, banned all anti-government protests and imposed curfews in Dhaka and other major cities.
Helmeted riot police and paramilitary forces took positions around the capital immediately after the 30-hour curfew was imposed at midnight Friday.
In a broadcast on state television announcing the emergency, Ershad said he was forced to assume special powers because the country was faced with internal strife, insecurity and economic danger.
Ershad took the action to forestall a 72-hour general strike called for Sunday by the country’s 21 opposition parties in a national campaign to oust him.
Opposition groups accuse the 57-year-old former army general of rigging last November’s national election, when civilian rule was restored to this mostly Muslim nation after several years of martial law.
They launched their latest campaign against him on Nov. 10. Since then, the country’s economy has been snarled by a series of violent strikes. The government says the stoppages have shattered the economy, costing an estimated $48 million a day.
In addition, eight people have been killed and hundreds injured in the unrest. More than 2,000 opposition activists have been taken into custody.
Ershad has rejected the opposition’s call for his ouster, saying he will serve the remaining four years of the term he won in the violence-ridden vote.
Ershad’s statement Friday said curfews had been imposed from Friday night to 6 p.m. Sunday in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Narayanganj and Rajshahi towns.
According to the order, all industries and offices will remain shut during the curfew until Sunday.
Key Rights Suspended
Ershad also ordered suspension of all fundamental rights of citizens and said courts were barred from trying any cases related to them.
A separate order from the Interior Ministry said the emergency proclamation and its ordinances could not be questioned by signs, words or hints.
The order also banned publication of any news or comments on activities prohibited by emergency powers. Criticism of any government decision was also outlawed.
It added that strikes and lockouts in mills, factories and commercial establishments are banned for two months and all kinds of rallies and marches prohibited.
The ministry also ordered that all educational institutions in Bangladesh remain closed until Dec. 4.
Imprisonment and Fines
It said anyone violating the emergency orders could be jailed for up to three years and fined.
State television said Ershad would make a national broadcast tonight to explain the reasons that led to the emergency order.
Opposition sources said police arrested several political leaders soon after the declaration of the emergency.
Among those detained were former Speaker of Parliament Mirza Golam Hafiz and an opposition Parliament member, Zillur Rahman.
There was no immediate statement from the opposition about the state of emergency.
Earlier in the day, 5,000 people, including doctors, lawyers, teachers and intellectuals, rallied peacefully at Dhaka University to urge Ershad’s ouster.
According to the Bangladesh constitution, the president can proclaim a state of emergency when “a grave emergency exists in which the security or economic life of Bangladesh . . . is threatened by war or external aggression or internal disturbance.”
The constitution says fundamental rights like freedom of movement, assembly, association and speech will remain suspended whenever such an emergency order is proclaimed.
Under the rules, the proclamation must be approved by Parliament within 120 days of the declaration. Ershad’s Jatiya Party has a majority in the country’s 330-seat Parliament elected in May, 1986.
Bloodless Coup Recalled
Ershad rose to power overthrowing the government of former President Abdus Sattar in a bloodless coup in March, 1982. He was first installed as president in December, 1983, after titular President Ahsanuddin Chowdhury resigned.
This is the second time Bangladesh has been placed under emergency rule.
The country’s first head of government, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, declared a state of emergency in December, 1974, three years after Bangladesh won independence from then-West Pakistan in a nine-month war with help from India.
For a time, this enabled him to put down his political rivals, but he was eventually killed by young army officers in a coup in August, 1975.