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Bangladeshi strike leaders arrested in anti-gas deal protest

media Police arrest activists from the National Committee to protect Oil, Gas, … Reuters/Palash Khan

Bangladeshi police have arrested up to 88 activists during a general strike against a gas exploration deal with US energy giant ConocoPhilips, organisers said Sunday. The six-hour strike closed down large parts of the capital, Dhaka.

Special police of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) picked up Professor Anu Muhammad, the national secretary of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports which is leading the strike, and  on Sunday morning.

After being detained for about an hours, he told RFI that about 88 people were still in detention.

“The strike was only called for from 6 am to noon in Dhaka city," Muhammad said. "But at 5.30 they started arresting our people from houses, from political parties and from the street. We could not even go for the demonstration or picketing. They started arresting and beating people. Til now about 88 people are in jail. “

Police used batons on protesters at Dhaka university campus, agencies report, and seven strike supporters were given seven months in jail for setting two buses on fire on Saturday night.

The committee, which is made up of several left-wing parties, wants the government to scrap an agreement that state-owned energy company Petrobangla signed with ConocoPhilips to explore two offshore blocks in disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal.

It claims the deal would be “suicidal”, allowing 80 per cent of the gas found at a time when the country faces an acute energy crisis.

“ Bangladesh is suffering from an energy crisis, oil crisis, gas crisis and there is a huge deficit of gas," Muhammad says. "This expropriated and unequal deal is a threat to Bangladesh ’s economy and to people in general."

Petrobangla chairman Hossain Monsur dismissed the claims, saying the arrangement would help end the country's chronic power shortages.

But the left-wingers say they are fighting to defend national assets.

"This is our movement to ensure national ownership," says Muhammad. "This movement is a long-term movement. This agreement is one of many deals with different corporations.

"Our movement is continuous and not party-based. Tomorrow there will be a protest programme. Then there will be a three-month nationwide programme of protest against these government deals.”

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