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Bangladesh Forces Fire on Protesters   07/19 06:11

   

   DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- Police and security officials in Bangladesh fired 
bullets and tear gas at protesters and banned all gatherings in the capital on 
Friday, as internet and mobile services were cut off after days of deadly 
clashes over the allocation of government jobs.

   The protests, which began weeks ago but escalated sharply on Monday, 
represent the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since she was 
won a fourth consecutive term in a January election that was boycotted by the 
main opposition parties.

   The latest clashes follow the bloodiest day of the protests to date, with 
local media reporting 22 people killed as protesting students attempted to 
impose a "complete shutdown" on the country.

   Somoy TR reported that more four people were killed on Friday. Authorities 
could not be reached to immediately confirm figures for the deaths.

   The chaos has highlighted cracks in Bangladesh's governance and economy and 
the frustration of young graduates who face a lack of good jobs.

   The government has deployed police and paramilitary forces across the 
capital to lock down campuses and break up protests. On Wednesday, universities 
including the country's largest suspended classes and closed dormitories, and 
on Friday Dhaka police said they were banning all gatherings and demonstrations 
in the capital.

   An Associated Press reporter saw border guard officials fire at a crowd of 
more than 1,000 protesters who had gathered outside the head office of 
state-run Bangladesh Television, which was attacked and set on fire by 
protesters the previous day.

   The border guards shot at the right crowd with rifles and sound grenades, 
while police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Bullets littered the 
streets, which were also marked by smears of blood.

   A news producer and reporter at Bangladesh Television on Thursday told the 
Associated Press that protesters had broken through the main gate and set fire 
to vehicles and the reception area. They spoke on condition of anonymity for 
fear of reprisals.

   "I escaped by leaping over the wall but some of my colleagues got stuck 
inside. The attackers entered the building and set furniture on fire," the 
producer said by phone.

   Internet services and mobile data were widely disrupted on Thursday night 
and remained down on Friday in the capital, Dhaka. Social media platforms like 
Facebook and WhatsApp were also not loading. It coincided with a widespread 
internet outage on Friday that disrupted flights, banks, media outlets and 
companies around the world, but the disruptions in Bangladesh were 
substantially greater than seen elsewhere.

   A statement from the country's Telecommunication Regulatory Commission said 
they were unable to ensure service after their data center was attacked 
Thursday by demonstrators, who set fire to some equipment. The Associated Press 
has not been able to independently verify this.

   Student protesters said they will extend their calls to impose a shutdown on 
Friday as well, and urged mosques across the country to hold funeral prayers 
for those who have been killed. Major universities have said they will close 
their doors until tensions ease.

   The protesters are demanding an end to a quota system that reserves up to 
30% of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh's war 
of independence in 1971 against Pakistan.

   They argue the system is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime 
Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose Awami League party led the independence movement, 
and they want it replaced with a merit-based system.

   But Hasina has defended the quota system, saying that veterans deserve the 
highest respect for their contributions in the war regardless of their 
political affiliation.

   The Bangladeshi leader is credited for bringing stable growth to Bangladesh, 
but rising inflation -- thanks in part to the global upheaval sparked by the 
war in Ukraine -- has triggered labor unrest and dissatisfaction with the 
government.

   Even though job opportunities have grown in some parts of the private 
sector, many people prefer government jobs because they are seen as more stable 
and lucrative. But there aren't enough to go around -- each year, some 400,000 
graduates compete for around 3,000 jobs in the civil service exam.

   "What is unfolding in Bangladesh is deeply unsettling for a generation that 
only asked for a fair opportunity in public service recruitment. That a 
peaceful protest against a state policy would slip into the peak of lawlessness 
shows the government's lack of farsightedness and inefficient policy 
governance," said Saad Hammadi, policy and advocacy manager at the Canada-based 
Balsillie School of International Affairs who has advocated for freedom of 
speech in the country.

   "The internet shutdown makes matters worse. Local news sites are 
inaccessible, and people in the country are left incommunicado with the rest of 
the world all in the pretext of conducting sweeping operations by the state 
that have often resulted in serious human rights violations," he added in an 
email.

   Bangladesh has previously shut down internet services in areas affected by 
protests, using it as a measure to suppress dissent by opposition parties, 
according to Access Now, an internet watchdog.

   CIVICUS, a nonprofit that tracks civic freedoms around the world, last year 
downgraded Bangladesh to "closed," the worst rating that it could assign, along 
with China and Venezuela, following a crackdown on the country's opposition 
members and supporters ahead of its national election.

   The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has backed the protesting 
students and vowed to organize its own demonstrations, and many of their 
supporters have joined in the students' demonstrations. On Friday, police fired 
tear gas at a few hundred BNP supporters, and arrested senior BNP leader Ruhul 
Kabir Rizvi.

   Hasina's government has accused the BNP of stoking the violence, with 
authorities raiding the opposition party's headquarters earlier this week and 
arresting activists from the party's student wing.

   The Awami League and the BNP have often accused each other of fueling 
political chaos and violence, most recently ahead of the country's national 
election, which was marred by a crackdown on several opposition figures while 
Hasina's government accused the party of attempting to disrupt the vote.

   Hasina's government had earlier halted the job quotas following mass student 
protests in 2018, but last month, Bangladesh's High Court nullified that 
decision and reinstated the quotas after relatives of the 1971 veterans filed 
petitions, triggering the latest demonstrations.

   The Supreme Court has suspended that ruling pending an appeal hearing, and 
said in a statement it will take up the issue on Sunday.

   On Wednesday, Hasina urged protesters in a televised address to "wait with 
patience" for the court verdict. "I believe our students will get justice from 
the apex court. They will not be disappointed."

 
 
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