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Bangladesh President Cracks Down On Opposition As Election Nears

February 16, 1988

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) _ Three major opposition politicians were arrested Tuesday in an apparent attempt to quiet anti-government forces before the March 3 parliamentary elections.

The arrests came one day after opposition parties criticized President Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s plan to use army troops to provide security for the elections, which are being boycotted by a coalition of 21 anti-governmen t groups.

Ershad said he would deploy troops at voting places after more than 100 people were killed last week during village council elections. Most of the deaths were blamed on clashes between supporters of rival candidates.

Sajeda Chowdhury, secretary of the Awami League, and retired Cols. Akbar Hossain and Oli Ahmed, leaders in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, were arrested at their homes in the early hours Tuesday, representatives of both parties said.

Awami League official Najma Rahman said Mrs. Chowdhury had just returned from an Awami League meeting when she was taken to Dhaka’s central jail.

Ashraf Hussein, a Nationalist Party official, said government agents also carried out raids early Tuesday on the residences of other party leaders but did not find them home.

The government made no announcement of the arrests, following the pattern set when the opposition’s main leaders, Sheik Hasina of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Nationalist Party, were arrested before previous elections.

Mrs. Zia and Sheik Hasina were put under house arrest for a month after their parties led a campaign beginning in November to demand Ershad’s ouster.

Under emergency laws declared just after the anti-Ershad campaign began, police can arrest and detain people without charge or trial for an indefinite period. More than 30 people have been killed in violence connected to the opposition campaign.

The Awami League and Nationalist party blamed Ershad for failing to control last week’s election violence. But on Monday they also condemned his plan to employ the army for security.

″The army is a sacred institution meant for safeguarding the country’s independence and sovereignty,″ Mrs. Zia said in a newspaper interview published Tuesday. ″They should not be dragged into politics.″

The Awami League issued a statement saying: ″The government is playing with fire. The decision must be withdrawn.″

A source in the ruling Jatiya Party said Monday that Ershad’s decision followed an appeal from leaders of parties participating in the polls. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ershad, a 58-year-old former army general, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1982 and was elected president in 1986. The opposition condemned that election as rigged and said no fair vote can be taken with Ershad in power.

The president dissolved Parliament on Dec. 6 and called for elections to try to placate the opposition, but the major parties agreed on a boycott. Ershad’s Jatiya Party, an alliance of 73 minor parties, and dozens of independents are running.

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