Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Dhaka on Saturday calling for the dissolution of parliament to make way for new elections, and demand the resignation of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The mass protest in the capital was organized by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which accuses Hasina of failing to address rising fuel prices and the cost of living.
Saturday’s protest comes amid a flurry of demonstrations in Bangladesh calling on Hasina to step down and demanding new elections.
Hasina has responded by calling the opposition leaders “arson terrorists” and warned people against allowing the BNP – the largest opposition party – back into power.
Several arrests were made in the lead up to Saturday’s protest.
Police arrested two top BNP leaders, including party secretary general Mirza Alamgir on Friday. Authorities said Alamgir was facing charges, without giving more information.
At least one man died during clashes between protesters and police on Wednesday when security forces fired tear gas to disperse people gathered in front of the BNP’s office in the capital.
Hasan Mahmud, Bangladesh’s Information and Broadcasting Minister, said authorities believe the man died after being injured by [Molotov] cocktails made by the activists and blamed the BNP for “creating chaos,” according to a report in state media outlet BSS.
The Bangladesh Election Commission has not announced a date for the next general election, which is due by the end of 2023.
The Bangladesh Awami League, led by 75-year-old Hasina, has been in power since 2009.
Hasina won a third consecutive term as Prime Minister in 2018 in a national election that was marred by deadly violence and allegations of rigged ballots.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, criticized the government’s response to the protests.
“Concerned governments should publicly call on the prime minister to allow Bangladeshis to freely engage in peaceful political activities,” she said.
“Sheikh Hasina should accept the challenge of democratic rule, not authoritarian abuse.”
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter D. Haas said in a statement Thursday that the embassy is concerned about reports of intimidation and political violence and urged authorities to investigate and protect freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.