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Cablegate: Week of Protests Considered a Success by Opposition

VZCZCXRO9984
RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #3570/01 1661053
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151053Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8771
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 9165
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 8585
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1170
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 7483
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 003570

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM BG
SUBJECT: WEEK OF PROTESTS CONSIDERED A SUCCESS BY OPPOSITION


1. SUMMARY: The Awami League (AL) and its 14-party alliance
declared a 36-hour hartal on June 13 and 14 on the heels of
their "siege of Dhaka" program. The hartal appeared to be
better observed than previous ones, with some incidents of
violence. The AL views the action as a success, and has
announced a series of new protests including a "siege" on the
Election Commission (EC) for June 20. END SUMMARY.

2. The AL and its allies declared a 36-hour hartal from 6 AM
on Tuesday, June 13 to 6 PM on Wednesday, June 14. The
hartal was a follow-on action to the "siege of Dhaka" on
Sunday, June 11 that effectively shut down several key
transportation routes into the city for several hours and led
to some violent clashes between law enforcement officers and
protestors.

3. Compared to other recent hartals, this 36-hour hartal was
relatively well-respected, though it was more strictly
observed on the first day than on the second. There was
almost no traffic in downtown Dhaka on Tuesday, June 13 and
most shops on the main thoroughfares were shuttered.
However, by Tuesday evening truck traffic had begun to appear
on the streets. On the morning of Wednesday, June 14 the
city was again shut down, but the hartal began to lose its
discipline with traffic starting to flow by mid-day.

SOME VIOLENCE...
----------------

3. Although the hartal was not very violent there were still
some incidents worth noting. At 5:30 AM on the morning of
June 13 five shots were fired at the house of Election
Commissioner Justice Mahfuzur Rahman in the Mohammadpur
section of Dhaka. No one was injured in the attack, and the
police brought two night guards from the building in for
questioning. At approximately 3:45 PM on June 14 three
Molotov cocktails were thrown at the apartment building where
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) M.A. Aziz used to reside.
The CEC, who currently lives in government housing elsewhere,
was not in the vicinity of the attacks, and the bombs caused
only superficial damage.

5. The most serious public disturbance occurred on Wednesday
morning in Kamrangirchar in southwest Dhaka. The
Kamrangirchar police station head and several officers were
beaten up after they detained a local Awami League leader. A
two-hour clash between AL supporters and police
reinforcements ensued, with the protestors using sticks and
throwing bricks and the police retaliating with tear gas.
The police chief required 14 stitches for a head wound, and
several other protestors were also injured.

BUT TO THE OPPOSITION, A SUCCESS
--------------------------------

6. Dr. Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir, a member of the AL Presidium,
defended the right of the AL to call the "siege" and hartal,
saying that this was a political culture "based on the
democratic rights that Gandhi fought for" and that "civil
disobedience is the only option left when democratic
processes fail." He argued that since the AL had been denied
a voice in the Parliament as the democratic opposition, its
only recourse was to take to the streets.

7. Bangladesh Observer editor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, an
informal advisor to Sheikh Hasina, told PolOff that the AL
considered this week's action a success. However, he
attributed the good turnout and participation at least in
part to frustration about price increases, gas shortages, and
the constant electricity problems, issues that the opposition
seems to have started to tap into more successfully.
Chowdhury echoed Dr. Alamgir's statement that the AL felt it
had few options other than to take their protests to the
streets, though he acknowledged that the AL risked a public
backlash if it resorted to this technique too frequently.

MORE FOCUSED PROTESTS IN THE COMING DAYS
----------------------------------------

8. On Wednesday evening AL president Sheikh Hasina announced
a series of further protests. This new program emphasized
more modest and focused actions, rather than new hartals.
The program includes a demonstration in Dhaka on June 16, a
country-wide demonstration on June 17, a "siege" of the
Election Commission in Dhaka and district election offices
across the country on June 20, and a transportation blockade
across the country on July 2. She told the press that in
developing this new strategy, the AL-led alliance had taken

DHAKA 00003570 002 OF 002


into account the suffering that hartals tended to cause,
particularly for the poor.

COMMENT
-------

9. Most AL officials are interpreting the week's activities
as a success. However, the modest follow-on program could
mean that the AL is trying to think more strategically,
capitalizing on its perceived success this week but not
wanting to overreach. By focusing on the Election Commission,
which has come under increasing criticism from the media, the
opposition and even some factions of the ruling coalition,
the AL sees a potentially easy win within its grasp.

10. The AL is walking a fine line right now. On the one hand,
it wants to do everything it can to discredit the BDG before
it leaves office. However, it does not want to instigate so
much chaos that it prompts a harsh reaction. That being said,
the temptation for the opposition to fall back on hartals as
its principle method of agitation may be too great,
particularly if the new round of focused protests does not
generate the degree of public interest this week's program
did.
BUTENIS

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