Five top Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders were arrested in Bangladesh ahead of a nationwide shutdown to press for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the next general election, prompting the opposition to increase the duration of the strike from 72 to 84 hours.
Three members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's highest policymaking committee - Moudud Ahmed, M K Anwar and Rafiqul Islam Mia - were arrested by plainclothesmen here overnight. They were taken into custody while returning home after the anniversary celebration of a newspaper.
Later, police detained BNP chief Khaleda Zia's adviser, business tycoon Abdul Awal Mintoo, and her special assistant Shimul Biswas. Mintoo and Biswas were whisked away from outside Zia's residence here at around 1 am (local time), reports said. Dhaka's Metropolitan Magistrate Zainab Begum rejected the bail applications of the BNP leaders and sent them to jail. The court adjourned the matter till Thursday.
The arrests added to tensions between the main opposition BNP and the ruling Awami League. To protest the arrest of the five leaders, the BNP extended the 72-hour shutdown beginning from Monday by 12 hours, saying the strike would continue until Wednesday evening. Angry opposition activists took to the streets, setting several vehicles afire and exploding crude bombs. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Witnesses said police were deployed on the streets and around Zia's office and residence. A police officer described the intensified vigilance as "steps for her own security". BNP alleged police carried out midnight raids at the homes of several influential party leaders who went underground to evade arrest.
Earlier, police sought 20-day remand for the five BNP leaders, alleging they were involved in an attempt to kill policemen and create unrest in Dhaka. The five leaders were shown as being arrested in two separate cases. Last night, Information Minister Hassanul Haq Inu said the government was forced to arrest the BNP leaders in a "extraordinary situation".
On Saturday, the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance announced a 72-hour nationwide strike from Sunday, after enforcing two back to back 60-hour shutdowns since October 27 on the same issue. This will be the third prolonged strike in two weeks.
The BNP-led alliance called the first 60-hour shutdown from October 27 and second one from November 4 to press for the restoration of the neutral caretaker government system to oversee the polls scheduled to be held by January 25, 2014.
A total of 26 people have died in violence linked to political turmoil since October 25.