Bangladesh's president fired the army chief Monday, accusing him of flouting orders and masterminding a rebellion in the poor South Asian country still struggling to learn the ways of civilian, democratic rule.
Lt. Gen. Abu Saleh Mohammed Nasim refused to leave office and was placed under house arrest today after a night of tension between troops loyal to him and rival forces backing President Abdur Rahman Biswas, military sources said.
Fighting was reported Monday between pro- and anti-government troops in two garrisons outside Dhaka, the capital. But there was no sign of clashes in the capital.
The movement of tanks and troops moved into Dhaka on Monday initially triggered panic that Nasim and units supporting him would resist Biswas in the capital. But the men were loyal to the president.
"They are there to protect the people's interest," Yamin Bakht, news editor of the Daily Star newspaper, said by telephone.
By 10 p.m., five tanks were standing guard at the president's residence, and other army units ringed state broadcasting facilities. Armored vehicles rumbled through the streets.
"A coup attempt has been foiled," the United News of India agency quoted an army officer as saying.
Exactly what happened was in dispute, but it was a sobering turn of events in the densely populated land that has spent 15 years of its 25-year existence under the rule of generals or military-backed regimes.
For the past two years, Bangladesh's civilian politicians have been locked in a struggle for power that has inflicted enormous losses upon the textile industry and other sectors of the economy. Voters are supposed to go to the polls June 12 to act as referees, but some Bangladeshis have expressed nostalgia for the military-backed regimes they abandoned in favor of a parliamentary system in 1991.
Biswas told the nation that Nasim, who had served as top military commander since August 1994, disobeyed an order Saturday to fire two high-ranking military officers.
"Lt. Gen. Abu Saleh Mohammed Nasim organized troops loyal to him against a presidential order to send two officers to enforced retirement and asked them to march to Dhaka. This amounted to a revolt," Biswas said.
Nasim, the president told the nation of about 125 million, "has been sacked for breaking army discipline, which amounted to rebellion against the government."
Maj. Gen. G. H. Morshed Khan was the commander of a garrison in the northern Bogra district, and Brig. Miron Hamidur Rahman was the deputy commander of the Bangladesh Rifles, or border guards.
The veterans of the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan were guilty of improper "involvement with some political parties, indiscipline and inciting trouble among the troops," Biswas said.
Bangladesh has had two presidents assassinated, three military coups and 18 coup attempts since it became independent 25 years ago.