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Cablegate: Week of Protests Considered a Success by Opposition

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RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #3571/01 1661106
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151106Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8773
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 9167
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 8587
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1172
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 7485
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 003571

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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


1. (U) 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. (U) 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. (U) 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.

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

4. (U) 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. (U) 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. (SBU) 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. (SBU) 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. (U) 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

DHAKA 00003571 002 OF 002


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

COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) 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. (SBU) 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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