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Major Opposition Politicians Arrested

February 16, 1988

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) _ Three major opposition politicians were arrested today in what appears to be a new crackdown on anti-government forces before March 3 parliamentary elections, the opposition said.

The election is being boycotted by a coalition of 21 opposition parties.

Today’s move followed opposition criticism of President Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s announcement Monday that he would use the army to provide security for the elections. Last week, more than 100 people died in clashes between rival candidates in elections for village councils.

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

Awami official Najma Rahman said Mrs. Chowdhury had just returned from a late night political meeting when she was taken to Dhaka’s Central Jail.

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

The government made no announcement of the arrests.

The Awami League under Sheik Hasina and the Nationalist Party under Khaleda Zia began a campaign in November to demand Ershad’s ouster.

Under emergency laws declared after the drive started, police can arrest and detain people without charge or trial for an indefinite period.

″The army is a sacred institution meant for safeguarding the country’s independence and sovereignty,″ Mrs. Zia said in a newspaper interview published today. ″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 The decision must be withdrawn.″

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

The major parties agreed on a boycott of parliamentary elections. Ershad’s Jatiya Party, an alliance of 73 minor parties, and dozens of independents are running.

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