Bangladesh is in an extremely sensitive pre-electoral situation. I arrived today to Dhaka and despite the impressive reports we receive every day in our countries, they are not being completely able to picture how the climate is tense over here. People are afraid. The Police and the Military are on the streets. National strikes are being organized by the opposition parties. In the streets of Dhaka small bombs and explosives like “cocktail molotov” are being dropped. Different neighborhoods of the city are being affected and from while to while we can hear gun shots in places that used to be safe and secure.
In 2012 I was in Bangladesh for 11 days and now this is my 2nd time here. Since I arrived I noticed that some things have changed. Some infrastructures are new since then and many roads and buildings are being built. In what concerns to construction we can see real progress. I first thought that the lack of the usually omnipresent traffic jams were the consequence of the existence of new roads, but that was not its main cause: due to an opposition-called 84 hour “hartal” (strike), many services completely stopped.
|Nowadays it is not safe to travel by train in Bangladesh|
Another thing I saw was an overwhelming presence of Police and the Military on the streets, mainly in the intersections between main roads and secondary streets. This strategic placement is to avoid attacks in the main roads of groups coming from narrower streets to drop explosives and make more casualties. I was going by car and within the small distance from the airport up to my hotel, Police forces stopped the car twice for searching purposes. But as they saw that I was a foreigner, they quickly let us go. The respect for foreigners is part of this culture. Each and every road intersection is filled with police forces in groups of 5 to 10 people, all carrying visible machine guns.
After I left my luggage in the Hotel I went by rickshaw to visit the Holy Rosary Church, which is a beautiful catholic temple. You probably know that Dhaka is known for being the city of rickshaws, with around 4 hundred thousand cycle-rickshaws driving around every day. Today rickshaw is the safest means of transport in Dhaka because it is the only which allows us to jump and run at any time. Some buses, CNG’s and cars were attacked during last days. So we went through Tejgaon, where the Prime-Minister’s office is, and 10 minutes after we heard an explosion noise and gun shots nearby. The security guard of the church told me to come inside the Church gates and then locked the entrance. After a while, everything was back to “normal”.
|Dhaka - Entrance gates of the Holy Rosary Church|
People are afraid and tense; we can see that in almost everybody’s eyes. The Bangladeshis are worried about what may happen next days, before and during and after elections. In 2012 I told all my friends that I never saw a city with so much life and movement as Dhaka. Many times I even complained that I could not sleep with so much honking in the street, 24 hours per day in a non-stop mode. And trust me, I am a heavy sleeper. But now, as I am writing this night, I cannot see one single person in this main avenue. Nobody dares to be out there in this megacity of 15 million people which used to be one of those that never sleeps. It seems that fear is reigning in Dhaka.
This is all for today.
António Vieira da Cruz
SADF reporting from BangladeshDhaka, the 11th of November 2013