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Cablegate: Government Faces Toughest Test As Violent Protests Rock

VZCZCXRO5703
OO RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1376 2330953
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 210953Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4879
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8062
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1796
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9248
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0115
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0888
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS DHAKA 001376

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PGOV KGOV KDEM ASEC BG
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT FACES TOUGHEST TEST AS VIOLENT PROTESTS ROCK
DHAKA


1. (SBU) Summary: Bangladesh's eight-month caretaker government is
facing its severest political test yet after student protests at
Dhaka University spilled into the capital's streets on August 21. If
mishandled, the protests threaten to weaken the caretaker government
and could tarnish the reputation of the army, which justified its
intervention in January by promising to rescue the nation from the
bloodshed and street riots then wracking the country. Yet to be seen
is whether the return of unrest will affect the election timetable
previously announced by the government or affect Chief of Army Staff
General Moeen U. Ahmed's standing within the army. End Summary.

2. (U) A scuffle between soldiers and students watching a soccer
match at Dhaka University on August 20 quickly escalated into
campus-wide pitched battles between police and students. On August
21, students burned an effigy of Moeen, who is widely seen as the
power behind the civilian caretaker government that cancelled
elections last January and imposed restrictions on civil liberties
in the name of cleaning up politics and fighting endemic corruption.
According to press reports, more than 100 students and faculty were
injured as police fired rubber bullets and fired shells of teargas.
Dhaka University students called an indefinite strike that quickly
won faculty support.

3. (U) Unrest flared again at Dhaka University on August 21 and
quickly spread to other campuses and the streets of the capital.
Television news showed scenes of protesters throwing stones at
police clad in riot gear and of slogan-chanting women marching
through the capital. Among the chants was "Ek Dofa Ek Daabi, Moeen
Tui Kobe Jabi" (One Point, One Demand: Get out Moeen). One local
reporter said students torched or damaged more than 100 vehicles,
including an army jeep, in central Dhaka. Clashes between police and
students were reported at Jagannath University in old Dhaka and at
Jahangirnagar University 20 miles northwest of Dhaka. There are
also reports of clashes outside the capital, including in Chittagong
and Jessore.

4. (U) In an attempt to diffuse the situation, the army said it
would agree to student demands to investigate the August 20 incident
and consider withdrawing troops deployed at Dhaka University since
December, according to local media. There was no immediate
indication, however, that protesting students were mollified. As of
0900 GMT August 21 neither General Moeen nor Chief Advisor
Fakhruddin Ahmed of the caretaker government had commented publicly
on the unrest. Neither had leaders of the two main political
parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
(BNP).

5. (U) It is no surprise that the unrest broke out at Dhaka
University, which traditionally has been at the vanguard of
political activism in Bangladesh; for example, students there
initiated a movement that eventually toppled military leader Hossain
Mohammad Ershad in 1990. More recently, many Dhaka University
students have been rabid supporters of the AL and BNP and have been
particularly frustrated by the caretaker government's ban on
political activity and its jailing of many of both parties' top
leaders on corruption allegations. Included in the arrests that
followed January 11 were many senior student political leaders.

6. (SBU) The caretaker government also is facing discontent within
the broader population over rising prices, energy shortages and a
perceived lackluster response to flooding that has devastated wide
swaths of the country. The unrest also is likely to undermine one
area in which the caretaker government has received generally
positive reviews, its ability to maintain law and order in a society
often brought to a standstill by strikes and politically inspired
street fighting.

7. (SBU) Comment: The ongoing protests come at a particularly bad
time for the caretaker government and its military backers. The
unrest threatens to undermine public support for the government,
which is based largely on its ability to maintain law and order. It
also could embolden supporters of the two main political parties,
which have been the major targets of the drive to sweep endemic
corruption from society, to confront the government. How the
protests might affect the government's recently announced political
liberalization plans that are to culminate in a national election
late next year is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the
unrest will feed the frenetic speculation about possible upcoming
changes in the government, including those that would increase the
profile of Moeen and the military. End comment.

PASI

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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