Viewing cable 07DHAKA1376
Title: GOVERNMENT FACES TOUGHEST TEST AS VIOLENT PROTESTS ROCK

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
07DHAKA13762007-08-21 09:53:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Dhaka
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DE RUEHKA #1376 2330953
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 210953Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4879
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8062
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1796
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9248
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0115
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0888
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI
UNCLAS DHAKA 001376 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958 N/A 
TAGS: PGOV KGOV KDEM ASEC BG
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT FACES TOUGHEST TEST AS VIOLENT PROTESTS ROCK 
DHAKA 
 
 
¶1. (SBU) Summary:  Bangladesh's eight-month caretaker government is 
facing its severest political test yet after student protests at 
Dhaka University spilled into the capital's streets on August 21. If 
mishandled, the protests threaten to weaken the caretaker government 
and could tarnish the reputation of the army, which justified its 
intervention in January by promising to rescue the nation from the 
bloodshed and street riots then wracking the country. Yet to be seen 
is whether the return of unrest will affect the election timetable 
previously announced by the government or affect Chief of Army Staff 
General Moeen U. Ahmed's standing within the army.    End Summary. 
 
¶2. (U) A scuffle between soldiers and students watching a soccer 
match at Dhaka University on August 20 quickly escalated into 
campus-wide pitched battles between police and students. On August 
21, students burned an effigy of Moeen, who is widely seen as the 
power behind the civilian caretaker government that cancelled 
elections last January and imposed restrictions on civil liberties 
in the name of cleaning up politics and fighting endemic corruption. 
According to press reports, more than 100 students and faculty were 
injured as police fired rubber bullets and fired shells of teargas. 
Dhaka University students called an indefinite strike that quickly 
won faculty support. 
 
¶3. (U) Unrest flared again at Dhaka University on August 21 and 
quickly spread to other campuses and the streets of the capital. 
Television news showed scenes of protesters throwing stones at 
police clad in riot gear and of slogan-chanting women marching 
through the capital. Among the chants was "Ek Dofa Ek Daabi, Moeen 
Tui Kobe Jabi" (One Point, One Demand: Get out Moeen). One local 
reporter said students torched or damaged more than 100 vehicles, 
including an army jeep, in central Dhaka. Clashes between police and 
students were reported at Jagannath University in old Dhaka and at 
Jahangirnagar University 20 miles northwest of Dhaka.   There are 
also reports of clashes outside the capital, including in Chittagong 
and Jessore. 
 
¶4. (U) In an attempt to diffuse the situation, the army said it 
would agree to student demands to investigate the August 20 incident 
and consider withdrawing troops deployed at Dhaka University since 
December, according to local media. There was no immediate 
indication, however, that protesting students were mollified. As of 
0900 GMT August 21 neither General Moeen nor Chief Advisor 
Fakhruddin Ahmed of the caretaker government had commented publicly 
on the unrest. Neither had leaders of the two main political 
parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party 
(BNP). 
 
¶5.  (U) It is no surprise that the unrest broke out at Dhaka 
University, which traditionally has been at the vanguard of 
political activism in Bangladesh; for example, students there 
initiated a movement that eventually toppled military leader Hossain 
Mohammad Ershad in 1990.  More recently, many Dhaka University 
students have been rabid supporters of the AL and BNP and have been 
particularly frustrated by the caretaker government's ban on 
political activity and its jailing of many of both parties' top 
leaders on corruption allegations.   Included in the arrests that 
followed January 11 were many senior student political leaders. 
 
¶6. (SBU) The caretaker government also is facing discontent within 
the broader population over rising prices, energy shortages and a 
perceived lackluster response to flooding that has devastated wide 
swaths of the country. The unrest also is likely to undermine one 
area in which the caretaker government has received generally 
positive reviews, its ability to maintain law and order in a society 
often brought to a standstill by strikes and politically inspired 
street fighting. 
 
¶7. (SBU) Comment: The ongoing protests come at a particularly bad 
time for the caretaker government and its military backers. The 
unrest threatens to undermine public support for the government, 
which is based largely on its ability to maintain law and order. It 
also could embolden supporters of the two main political parties, 
which have been the major targets of the drive to sweep endemic 
corruption from society, to confront the government. How the 
protests might affect the government's recently announced political 
liberalization plans that are to culminate in a national election 
late next year is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the 
unrest will feed the frenetic speculation about possible upcoming 
changes in the government, including those that would increase the 
profile of Moeen and the military. End comment. 
 
PASI