Clashes in Bangladesh ahead of verdict against ex-PM Khaleda Zia

Clashes erupted today in Bangladesh between supporters of Khaleda Zia and police ahead of a corruption trial verdict against the ex-prime minister and main opposition BNP chief.

A Dhaka court is set to deliver the judgement in the trial in which Zia, 72, and five others, including her expatriate elder son Tarique Rahman, accused of embezzling 21 million takas (USD 252,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.

Hundreds of activists poured in on Dhaka roads as Zia headed to the court.

Clashes broke out between police and BNP activists who hurled bricks. Police had to lob tear gas shells to stop protesters.

The capital, Dhaka, has been wrapped in an unprecedented security blanket.

Elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and armed police were called out to guard Dhaka’s streets while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League said their activists would be ready to “assist police” if the BNP tried to foment any unrest over the verdict.

All measures have been taken to prevent BNP supporters from staging demonstration or causing any damage to life and properties.

The home minister, inspector general of police and the DMP commissioner warned of tough actions against troublemakers.

“We hope that the law and order will be normal and under control across the country. If anyone tries to disrupt law and order and threaten public safety, law enforcers will handle it strictly,” IGP Javed Patwary told reporters at the police headquarters.

Legal experts said Zia, who served as premier for three terms, could face life imprisonment if found guilty of the charges while a conviction would simultaneously disqualify her from contesting the next general election slated for December.

Zia in a press conference ahead of the verdict, blamed the government for unleashing a “reign of terror” ahead of the verdict and claimed she was implicated in a “false case” but said she was ready to face any fate.

Her party had boycotted the 2014 polls over its demands for an election-time non-party government, and became the opposition outside parliament. But it is expected to contest the upcoming polls.

Political analysts said the BNP might see a political split as several senior leaders could disassociate themselves from Zia as her son Rahman, the senior vice president of the party, is seen as wielding authority from London while ignoring party veterans.

Rahman is believed to have sought asylum in Britain to evade justice as he is also being tried on several charges, including a 2004 grenade attack on a rally of the then opposition Awami League that killed 23 people and in which Hasina narrowly escaped.

The ex-premier on November 30, 2014 lost her last ditch effort to evade the graft trial as the Supreme Court turned down her second ‘leave to appeal’ petition challenging her indictment and asked her to face trial in the lower court.

The high court earlier validated the trial in the lower court which on March 19, 2014 had indicted Zia on two graft charges brought by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

The ACC alleged that the two charities, the other being the Zia Charitable Trust, existed only on paper and a huge amount of money was misappropriated in the name of the two organisations while Zia was premier during the BNP’s 2001-2006 government.s

Zia and three of her aides in particular were accused of syphoning off 31.5 million takas (USD 400,000) from the Zia Charitable Trust alone while she is also accused of leading a group of five people, including her eldest son, in embezzling another 21.5 million takas (USD 277,000) in funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.moneycontrol