Situation normal - Bangladesh in turmoil

The riots in Dhaka from Wednesday evening continuing through Thursday morning (see earlier report) protesting frequent electric power cuts, spread to various other areas of Bangladesh and continued on Friday.

Submitted by Red Marriott on October 2, 2006

Previous report: here, all recent Bangladesh news here.

Roads were blocked, thousands of demonstrators fought police, also attacked offices and property of the national electricity supplier. Two days later the Prime Minister sacked her 'Minister for State Power'. (No, not a character from Orwell's '1984'.) The previous Energy Minister was sacked in May for admitting publicly that it would take at least 3 years to ease the shortage in supplies and that the crisis could escalate over the next 2 years. The Prime Minister has also instructed her Energy Ministry to scrap the deal with British company Asia Energy to develop an opencast coal mine in Phulbari. This proposed project met with massive violent opposition recently (see earlier report). With an general election due in the New Year, energy supply has become a hot political issue.

In many areas of the Dhaka and elsewhere, security forces were overwhelmed by sheer numbers of demonstrators and their improvised road blocks;
"In eastern Dhaka, protesters used burning logs to blockade the main highway connecting the capital with the southeast port city of Chittagong.
"Thousands of people put timber logs on (the) road. There is complete anarchy there and the police cannot even get there to tackle the situation,""
said a police officer.

The World Bank recently estimated that Bangladesh needs 10 billion dollars in investment over the next 10 years to fix average daily power shortfalls of 700 to 800 megawatts. Total daily demand is estimated at around 4,900 megawatts, compared with a supply of only 3,065 megawatts. Only 25 percent of the country's 140 million population has access to electricity. Many rural areas have power for only four hours a day, if at all.

The situation in Bangladesh is in stark contrast to the more rapidly developing 'Asian Tiger' economies such as China and South Korea. The country cannot even provide itself with adequate power supplies for domestic and industrial needs, so hampering any sustained economic expansion. Unlike the more successful Asian economies, Bangladesh lacks necessary infrastructure, skills and education, natural resources and, importantly, political stability to develop such an infrastructure and attract greater investment.

New garment struggles:
Yesterday (Saturday 1st Oct) at least 100 people were injured, and five factories and 20 vehicles damaged as thousands of garment workers fought with cops and factory security guards at Uttara in Dhaka. Workers arrived to find that they had been locked out by management and that two of their fellow workers had been been beaten up by security thugs.

The workers called out workforces of other factories and together they blocked the Dhaka–Mymensingh Highway, suspending traffic for about four hours; they also damaged shopping malls and vehicles. As more workplaces joined them, more factories were attacked. As riot police arrived and baton charged, workers responded with volleys of stones and attacked vehicles. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets - the workers then chased police and attacked their vans. The clashes continued for 4 hours during which 100 workers and 5 cops were injured.

It was announced last week by garment worker unions that there would be a renewed agitation. Unions, bosses and government have failed to agree on setting a minimum wage, agreed wage rises have not been paid, back pay is still owed and bosses are using lock outs to try and starve the workers into coming back to work under worse terms and conditions. It is unclear how much leadership or influence the unions have over garment workers struggles beyond representing workers at negotiating tables with bosses: though reports suggest that much of the constant workers' agitations in the workplace and on the street are self-organised and beyond any bureaucratic control.