DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladeshi authorities have arrested three senior leaders of the main opposition party amid increasing tensions ahead of next year's elections, an official said Saturday.
Police detectives arrested Moudud Ahmed, M.K. Anwar and Rafiqul Islam Mia on late Friday, hours after an alliance led by main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party announced a new round of a 72-hour nationwide strike.
The strike is due to start Sunday morning to pressure the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to quit and appoint a caretaker to oversee the elections.
Police also arrested a prominent businessman who is tied to the main opposition party and another aide of opposition leader Khaleda Zia early Saturday.
Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu said the arrests were carried out on charges of instigating attacks on people and property. But they also highlight the resolve of Hasina's government to crack down on the opposition and forge ahead with the elections by January.
Hasina and Zia, a former prime minister, are the most powerful leaders in Bangladesh and they have alternated as prime minister since 1991.
Hasina wants an all-party government to oversee the next elections, but Zia wants her to resign to pave the way for forming a caretaker government with people from outside of political parties.
Communications Minister Obaidul Quader said Thursday that members of Hasina's government would start resigning from Sunday to create the opportunity for forming an election-time government. The ruling party leaders say they are ready to form a government with other parties if Zia's party refuses to join.
On Saturday, police also raided houses of a former speaker and four other leaders of Zia's party.
In response, opposition supporters torched and smashed vehicles in the capital, Dhaka, and other districts across the country, television stations reported.
Over the last two weeks the opposition led by Zia has enforced 120 hours of general strike that turned violent with at least 18 people dead.
The latest developments come at a time of deep tension in Bangladesh, a nation struggling to overcome extreme poverty, rancorous politics and a string of horrific accidents linked to the garment industry.
In addition to the election-related chaos, a war crimes tribunal stemming from Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan has become another incendiary political issue.
Hasina formed the tribunal in 2010, but most of those on trial are members of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic party allied to the opposition. Zia says the trial is politically motivated.
Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the 1971 war.