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Monday, September 28, 2009

Crime problem weighs on Bangladesh government

Source: The Washington Post

DHAKA (Reuters) - Is crime on the rise in Bangladesh since a democratic government took charge eight months ago, after two years under a military-backed interim authority?
Holding the line on violent crime is important to attract aid and investment to the impoverished South Asian country of nearly 150 million, which has a history marred by frequent violence.
"The government must act immediately before rising crime becomes a pattern and maligns the image of the country," Asif Nazrul, an analyst and Dhaka University law teacher, told Reuters.
Hardly a day passes without Bangladesh newspapers carrying photos of murder victims' corpses lying in hospitals, on the street or in rural fields.
Some were killed in notorious "cross fire" between criminals and law enforcement agents -- regular police and the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) akin to other countries' SWAT teams.
A statutory government statement accompanies such death reports, saying the casualties occurred as the criminals opened fire at law officers pursuing them, usually at night.
"They (police or RAB) fired back in self-defense, resulting in fatalities," the statement says. Often there are casualties on the security force side too.
Opposition political parties say the cross-fire deaths are linked to graft, as corrupt ruling party officials and bureaucrats try to eliminate rivals and help steer government contracts and related kickbacks to friends and themselves.
Human rights groups meanwhile criticize the killings as effectively "extra-judicial" means of trying to enforce order, and have urged the authorities to crack down on the practice.
The government denies such accusations.
"No one has been killed by law enforcers deliberately or (is) being tasked by the government" to do extra-judicial killings, Home Minister Sahara Khatun said recently.
Being a law-enforcement agent does not mean one cannot shoot back in self defense when under fire, she added.
Sahara also told parliament the "law and order situation did not deteriorate, rather improved since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took the reins."
Hasina assumed office in January after winning what most independent observers considered a clean election.
She vowed to tackle problems ranging from poverty to crime, to ensure a modicum of stability and attract aid and investment that would lift the standard of living in a country were roughly 40 percent of the population earn less than $1 a day.
But the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of ex-prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia says the government is ineffective generally on law and order.
"Killing, rape, robbery ... are on the rise due to slackened administration," Khondaker Delwar Hossain, secretary-general of the BNP, told reporters.
Even while saying the overall crime rate was falling, Hasina's Home Minister Sahara also told parliament: "Some 10 people were killed on average each day" over the first eight months of the year.
Police say more than 200 people were killed in the capital alone from January through August, among a national total of 2,836. They said 4,099 and 3,691 people were killed in 2008 and 2007 respectively under the army-backed interim regime, and some 4,166 people murdered in 2006 when Khaleda was in power.
If the trend of the first eight months continues, the total in Hasina's first year would be marginally higher.
A senior police officer who did not want to be named told Reuters: "Criminals backed by different political parties have flooded back into the capital Dhaka and other cities since the change of guard."
A senior home ministry official said those behind the problems include: "seasoned criminals, killers for hire, frustrated sons of the rich, drug addicts as well as political activists."
Independent observers say students from Hasina's Awami League and Khaleda's BNP flex muscles or use guns to extort money, steal documents to help favored businessmen, and take mob action to control streets or university dormitories.
"Government efforts to curb crime are failing, because certain people with political backgrounds are patronizing crime gangs for unlawful benefits," retired Brigadier-General Shahedul Anam Khan, an independent political analyst, told Reuters.
(Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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