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Cablegate: Rajshahi: Cracks in the Happiest City On Earth

VZCZCXRO6768
PP RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1557/01 2680838
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 250838Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5163
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO PRIORITY 8100
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 1831
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 9289
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 0181
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA PRIORITY 0925

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001557

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: BG PGOV PINR SOCI
SUBJECT: RAJSHAHI: CRACKS IN THE HAPPIEST CITY ON EARTH


1. (SBU) Summary: When Dhaka University erupted in
anti-government protests on August 20, the unrest quickly
spread to Rajshahi University in northwest Bangladesh.
During a visit to Rajshahi September 11-12, PolOff spoke to
several credible witnesses who said only a small fraction of
university students were involved in the rioting that, unlike
Dhaka, failed to spread to the general population. Most
people PolOff interviewed were optimistic that there won't be
another spasm of violence should school reopen as scheduled
in late October. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The 750-acre mildew-streaked Rajshahi University
campus lies on the outskirts of Bangladesh,s fourth largest
city. It has about 25,000 students, making it the second
largest in the country after Dhaka University, and 1,100
faculty members. PolOff spoke with professors, senior
university administrators, police and journalists about the
August unrest. The following account draws on all of these
interviews but particularly the eyewitness account of Nazib
Wadood, a journalist who also serves as a medical officer at
the university clinic.

3. (SBU) Small-scale protests began at Rajshahi University
on August 21 in solidarity with Dhaka University students who
a day earlier had scuffled with soldiers billeted on their
campus. Protests flared again early on August 22 but
initially attracted only a few dozen participants, including
students and teachers affiliated with the Awami League and
leftist organizations. They marched to the main campus gate
and threw bricks at police deployed outside, who countered
with bricks and tear gas. Throughout the remainder of the
day the protesting students, who according to Wadood numbered
perhaps 300-400 at the peak of the unrest, ransacked a number
of campus buildings, including the vice chancellor,s
residence and the medical center, and torched one military
vehicle. At times they chanted political slogans calling for
the end of the Caretaker Government,s restrictions on civil
liberties and the release of Sheikh Hasina, the imprisoned
leader of the Awami League and former Prime Minister who is
in jail on corruption charges. A small number of outsiders
joined the rioting, some covering their faces with black
bandanas. Police entered campus firing rubber bullets and
tear gas, and by evening the unrest ebbed with the imposition
of a curfew and suspension of classes. One rickshaw driver
was killed when hit by rubber bullets; the battles also left
two students with serious injuries and more than a dozen
policemen hurt.

4. (SBU) The rioting did not rise to the level of violence
that periodically has rocked Rajshahi University over local
issues in the past. A number of factors probably helped
contain the unrest, including the authorities, decision to
close the university,s main gate on August 22. Wadood also
believes that while local residents are upset about inflation
-- a main reason why the rioting in Dhaka spread to other
parts of Bangladesh -- people in Rajshahi &are not so
aggrieved that they will return to the street.8

5. (U) PolOff found Rajshahi to be calm three weeks after
the rioting. It is a sleepy, poor city of 700,000 on the
banks of the Padma River near the border with India. Famous
for its mangos, schools of higher education and silk weaving,
but devoid of other industries, the pace of city life is
decidedly less frenetic than Dhaka. Very few cars and trucks
ply its main road to compete with ubiquitous rickshaws, many
of which are decorated with paintings of a female Rambo )
well muscled, wrapped in a bandoleer and menacingly wielding
a nasty hand cannon. Rajshahi University,s top official,
Vice Chancellor Altaf Hossain, during a five-minute courtesy
call chose not to describe his harrowing personal experience
during the riots but instead proudly noted that a recent
London School of Economics survey proclaimed Rajshahi the
happiest city on Earth.

6. (SBU) Under that serene veneer, though, is tension. A
police roundup of eight faculty members accused of
participating in the unrest has left colleagues uneasy.
&Teachers are very unhappy, they are afraid,8 according to
one chemistry professor. &We are very sorry our teachers
are in custody,8 said Pro Vice-Chancellor Mumnunul Keramat,
who holds the second highest position on campus. &They
should be given proper treatment and proper justice.8

6. (SBU) Comment: The Rajshahi University anti-government
protests fell far short of those in Dhaka, in part because
discontent with the Caretaker Government does not appear as
extreme as in the capital. Rajshahi officials took a number
of steps to minimize the unrest: sealing off the university;
initially keeping the police off campus to cool tempers; and

DHAKA 00001557 002 OF 002


not arresting, at least for now, four students accused in the
riots. While impossible to gauge student attitudes while
school is suspended, faculty and administrators were
optimistic classes will resume in October without a hitch.

PASI
Pasi

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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