Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday urged the opposition BNP and Hefazat-e-Islam to postpone their planned protests in Dhaka scheduled for March 4 and 5 respectively taking into consideration the ongoing rescue operations for the Savar victims. “It is their democratic rights to hold peaceful rallies anytime anywhere in Bangladesh. However, I request both BNP and Hefazat leaders to suspend their programmes temporarily for the sake of the relief and rescue operations of the Savar victims,” she told a news conference at Ganabhaban.
The prime minister thanked the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party for withdrawal of its nationwide shutdown programme in view of Savar tragedy and held out her hope that BNP and Hefazat-e-Islam would also consider postponing their rallies in the capital on March 4 and 5.
Sheikh Hasina made a passionate plea to all concerned to stand by the helpless victims of Savar tragedy and make sure that no obstacle is put in the way of providing medical care to hundreds of survivors and doing the religious rituals for those who perished in the worst ever building collapse.
Referring to the Chittagong-based Hefazat-e-Islam’s demands, Sheikh Hasina said: “We have already examined those demands. Of them, many have already been implementedand few are under the process of being implemented. We can surely do something about those demands through negotiations.”
On her recent offer for talks with the opposition BNP, the prime minister said the formal letter of invitation would be sent to the opposition leader very soon. However, she noted with regret that the opposition has already attached conditions with her proposal for a dialogue with it.
The prime minister once again brushed aside BNP’s principal demand for a non-party and neutral caretaker government for overseeing the next general elections. She, however, expressed her readiness to accept an interim government set up with the representatives of different political parties.
“I am not at all rigid. I am a very flexible and accommodative person on political matters at the negotiating table. However, I never compromise on the question of principle,” Sheikh Hasina said.
She reaffirmed her government’s already stated-position that the continuity of the democratic process must be maintained in the country at any cost. In this connection, she pointed out that without a democratic government and culture there would be no accountability whatsoever in the country.
“We do not want to go back to those days of 2007. We must take lessons from our own history. We have struggled hard and long for constitutional process in the country. We cannot let any unconstitutional quarter to take over power again in Bangladesh,” the prime minister said.
Sheikh Hasina cautioned that irresponsible speeches and activities might do serious harm to democracy as well as the nation and urged the people, especially the religious leaders (Olama-Mashayekh) to guard against any type of extremist and terrorist activities in the country.
She appealed to the Hefazat-e-Islam to work together for the development of the country in the greater interest of the nation following the path of the peaceful religion of Islam. The prime minister agreed with many grievances put forward by Hefazat, reading out a written statement at the news conference.
Agencies add: The Prime Minister said the very existing law of the country provides punishment to the persons responsible for defaming Islam. The Special Power Act, Penal Code and ICT Act have clear provisions in this regard, she said.
“If anybody thinks that the punishment is not strong enough for the offences, then we can discuss on more stringent provisions,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said four bloggers have been arrested on charges of defaming the Prophet (SM) and a high-powered committee is working for identifying others.
“None has the right to spread canards about Islam and the Prophet,” she said adding that action would be taken according to the recommendations of the committee.
About the demand of Hefajat-e-Islami on stopping indiscriminate killing of innocent Alems, Olemas, Madrasa students, the Prime Minister said no such incident occurred in the country.
Law enforcing agencies have taken action against some leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir on charges of their war crimes and subversive activities, she said.
A section of people is misusing Islam and trying to create fanaticism in the country. Jamaat and Shibir and their accomplices are taking the lead, Sheikh Hasina said and added that the law enforcing agencies have taken action against them to protect public lives and properties.
“However, if we get any list from Hefajat-e-Islami about their detained leaders, the government would give highest consideration for their release,” she assured.
The prime minister urged the Hefajat leaders to look into the matter of holiness of the mosques saying some people are attacking the Khatibs of the mosques and using the places of worship for political purposes, which is not acceptable.
She elaborated various steps taken by the government for launching the rescue operation soon after the building collapse in Savar on April 24, including treatment of the injured persons and emergency service for the victims.
The Prime Minister said, “We have moved army for rescue operation immediately after hearing of the tragic incident. Local people, police, fire service and disaster management volunteers also rushed to the spot.”
On an emergency basis, she said, the government asked the concerned authorities to keep ready 300 beds in local hospitals, clinics and CMH. “We were able to rescue most of the trapped persons alive due to the quick response,” she said.
The Prime Minister expressed deep shock at the death of more than 500 people in the incident saying the rescue operation was really a difficult task. “We, however, retrieved as many as 2,740 garment workers alive from beneath the debris,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the rescue work has been carried out very carefully as the trapped persons were scattered in different air pockets under the rubbles. The bodies of the identified persons were handed over to their relatives while DNA of the unidentified ones was preserved, she added.
The Prime Minister also gave a brief account about her government’s plan for rehabilitation of the injured persons, compensation to the families of the victims and treatment of the injured persons.
The workers, she said, were forced to join their works by the garments owners’ despite the building was declared abandoned by industrial police a day before. The responsible persons, the Prime Minister said, in this connection have already been arrested.
The Prime Minister said her government after taking office in 2009, has procured many equipment for disaster management. Around 18,000 volunteers were trained for engagement in rescue operations after an earthquake, she said adding Savar served as an experience for disaster management personnel.
Hasina said she would not urge both the parties to stop their programmes because those are their political programmes. “But, rescue operation is still going on and there is a need (for all concerned) to go to the Savar site every now and then.”
She also requested the leaders of both Hefazat and the opposition to distribute the amount that were supposed to be spent on Dhaka Siege and rally among the victims and injured of that tragic incident.
The Prime Minister said that the rescue operation at Savar after the tragic incident is still going on and programmes like Dhaka Siege and rally might hamper the ongoing rescue operation and its related activities.
“If they suspend their Dhaka Siege and rally now, we’ll be able to assist the injured and affected of that incident in a bigger way,” Hasina added.
-With The Independent input