Khaleda Zia under 'virtual house arrest', army deployed

Khaleda ZiaHowever, it was not clear if the 68-year-old former Prime Minister was kept under house arrest. (AP)

Bangladesh security forces Thursday laid a siege around the residence of opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia, ahead of a massive anti-government rally planned in the capital demanding postponement of the January 5 elections.

Witnesses said police in riot gears took positions around Zia's house barring party activists and visitors' entry onto its premises at the upmarket Gulshan area.

However, it was not clear if the 68-year-old former Prime Minister was kept under house arrest.

"We have been working for whatever we think required to maintain law and order," police commissioner Benajir Ahmed told reporters without elaboration.

Zia's international affairs adviser Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury was quoted as saying in media reports that "since yesterday she has been under virtual house arrest" and alleged that it was part of a government move to foil the December 29 "march for democracy".

Police officials, however, rejected the claim that Zia was detained and said they were ordered just to intensify the security of her residence and other party leaders.

No Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader was available for reactions immediately.

Meanwhile, TV news channels reported that police detained BNP lawmaker Shammi Akhtar from in front of Zia's house late Wednesday night along with three other junior party leaders.

On December 24, Zia urged people to march towards Dhaka on December 29 from all over the country to "protect democracy" after the 18-party opposition alliance wrapped up their nearly month-long blockade, sparking widespread violence that claimed over 130 lives.

Zia asked the government to shelve the elections fearing "it could be last nail to the coffin of democracy" and accusing her arch-rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of "killing democracy to consolidate power forever."

Meanwhile, the government also deployed the army Thursday across the country to contain deadly political violence ahead of the January 5 elections, even as nine policemen were injured in attacks by opposition activists.

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