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Bangladesh cuts power to opposition leader's office

DHAKA: Bangladesh authorities on Saturday cut the power to opposition leader Khaleda Zia’s office in an apparent bid to force her to call off a crippling anti-government transport blockade.

Local television showed footage of a technician from a state-run power utility climbing a ladder and cutting the line outside Zia’s office, where she has been holed up since the protests began early in January.

“We got permission from police to cut the power line,” the technician told reporters as he cut the line.

Private Channel 24 television said that Internet and satellite television connections to her office were also severed.

There was no official comment from police or the power company.

Shamsuddin Dider, a spokesman for Zia’sBangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), told AFP that the 69-year-old leader was “shocked and surprised” by the move.

He said the mobile phone network around the office had also been jammed.

The power line was cut just hours after a government minister reportedly threatened to sever the office’s electrical supply and force Zia her to starve to death if she did not call off the nationwide transport blockade.

“Even the food provided to you by your party officials will not reach your room. You’ll have to die there without food,” shipping minister Shahjahan Khan told a rally late Friday, according to the local Daily Star newspaper.

Zia has been confined in her office in Dhaka’s upmarket Gulshan district for weeks after threatening to rally her supporters against the government of bitter rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on January 5, the first anniversary of a disputed general election.

Her confinement coincided with the death of her son, who died in Malaysia earlier this month. His death prompted tens of thousands of mourners to turn out Tuesday in a massive show of support for the embattled former premier.

While holed up, Zia has called a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways, triggering deadly unrest that has left at least 40 people dead and nearly 800 vehicles firebombed or damaged.

She also called a 72-hour strike from Sunday, despite nationwide high-school examinations in which about 1.5 million students are taking part.

Zia wants Hasina, her rival of nearly three decades, to call fresh polls after last year’s controversial polls, which opposition parties boycotted on the grounds they would be rigged.

The boycott meant most members of the 300-seat parliament were returned unopposed, handing Hasina another five years in power.

Zia denies the BNP and its Islamist allies were responsible for firebombings and has demanded the release of opposition officials and leaders detained over the violence.

Hasina has accused Zia of trying to trigger “anarchy” and ordered the security agencies to hunt down the protesters.

On Saturday an elite security force arrested Rizvi Ahmed, a top BNP leader, in Dhaka after he was accused of ordering firebombing of vehicles from a hideout.

The EU, the nation’s biggest export destination, has urged Hasina’s government and the opposition to hold talks to resolve the crisis. – AFP

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