Dhaka: Since the beginning of the new year, the political war between Bangladesh's two main parties has bled on to the street. At least 115 have died, 60 of whom were burned to death. Bitter feuds are nothing new in Bangladeshi politics, but the depth of this year's violence is unprecedented.
As the crisis has spiralled, the country's garment industry, which turns out many of the clothes destined for the British High Street, has seen orders drop by nearly a third. "Never has there been these kinds of attack against the public, where the public has been victimised by the crisis," said Iftekaruzzaman, the executive director of Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog.
The killings started in January, when Khaleda Zia, the leader of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), called for her supporters to blockade the country's roads, railways and canals in protest at an unfair general election. Her supporters, including allies from the Jamaat-e-Islami party, started setting fire to vehicles that tried to pass the barricades, leaving scores of bus passengers and truck drivers dead.
Sheikh Hasina, the country's prime minister, has blamed the deaths on her opponent, calling them deliberate murders as part of a "desperate effort" to destabilise the country and grab power. A court has issued an arrest warrant for Zia on corruption charges, but her lawyer has said she would not appear unless the government could guarantee her security and allow her to return to her office.
The police have arrested as many as 15,000 of Zia's supporters and at least 35 have died in what human rights activists said were extra-judicial assassinations. A significant number of party leaders have been detained and hundreds of activists have gone into hiding. Gowhar Rizvi, the prime minister's foreign affairs adviser, said the BNP had "not drawn any popular support" and blamed "paid agents" for carrying out the violence.
"Since these major political parties will govern Bangladesh for the foreseeable future, they have to find a long term and permanent method where they can agree to transition power to and from each other through a democratic process. And they need to start talk about this," said Syed Nasim Manzur, the president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The BNP said it was fighting for democracy itself. "I am one of the biggest aspirants to stop the violence, to stop the hartals. As a nation we can't go for a period like this. But dialogue is the only solution,” said Mahbubur Rahman, a retired lieutenant general and a member of the BNP standing committee.