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Bangladesh opposition says it faces mass arrests ahead of polls | Bangladesh News

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Dhaka, Bangladesh – With less than a week remaining before Bangladesh’s much anticipated parliamentary elections, the main opposition Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front) has accused the government of carrying out mass arrests of its leaders and supporters.

Seven thousand activists and leaders have been arrested since the election schedule was announced in November, the opposition alliance said in a press release on Monday.

The alliance has alleged that they have also faced violent attacks from police and the ruling Awami League (AL) party supporters.

The opposition alliance claims election campaign activities of its candidates have come under repeated attacks, making it impossible for them to gather freely in public spaces.

“There hasn’t ever been a situation like this before in an election in Bangladesh’s history,” said Jahangir Alam Mintu, a spokesperson of the Jatiya Oikya Front.

US-based right group Human Rights Watch, in a report published on December 22, urged Bangladesh authorities to protect candidates and ensure a credible election.

Terming the current political climate in Bangladesh “repressive”, the New York-based rights body said it is “undermining the credibility” of the upcoming election.

The report also found that “authoritarian measures, including widespread surveillance and a crackdown on free speech, have contributed to a widely described climate of fear”.

 Zia barred from contesting the polls

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said on Sunday its website was shut down along with 54 other portals over purported security reasons amid accusation that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been clamping down on dissent.

Its main leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been barred from contesting the polls as she is serving jail term for corruption. She has termed the charges political motivated.

The BNP leader Shamsuzzaman Dudu said that the opposition is not being allowed to carry out any public activities without risk of being attacked or arrested.

“We want to contest the election but the minimum freedom necessary for an election does not exist. We cannot do campaign works. We are being charged in false police cases,” he said.

Dudu’s BNP is the biggest political party in the four-party opposition alliance that is challenging Hasina, who is seeking to return to power for a third consecutive time.

The opposition leader accused the police of biased towards the ruling party.

“If from tomorrow there is no police force on the ground, I think that will ensure the most free and fair election,” he said, adding that police’s only role is to remove the opposition from the election.

Attacks on the opposition alliance candidate Afroza Abbas, who is running from the Dhaka 9 constituency, came under spotlight as videos surfaced on social media showing men with brickbats and sticks attacking her election rally.

Since her election campaign began on December 12, she claims there have been four attacks on her rallies.

“I have shown the pictures and videos to the election commissioners. They said they have properly instructed the police to stop these attacks. But they keep attacking. My driver was severely injured in the last attack and he needed 22 stiches,” Abbas told Al Jazeera.

She admitted that since last week, the police actually tried to protect her but it did not make any arrests for the previous attacks.

“I recognise the attackers. They are Jubo League (a youth wing of the ruling Awami League) people. But the police don’t arrest them,” she said.

Police deny allegations

Police denied the opposition allegations and said that there is “clear instructions from the police headquarters to carry out their duties according to the rule of law and maintain due process”.

“If there is an aggrieved party which feels that they are being charged in a case by the police without due procedure, then they can file complaints and ask for appropriate redress,” Sohel Rana, the Additional Inspector General (Media) of Bangladesh Police, told Al Jazeera.

He promised that each and every allegation will be investigated.

“We cannot respond to vague allegations. If there is a mistake we will take appropriate actions,” he said.

At least six people have died in election-related violence so far. On Monday, the military began to deploy across the South Asian nation of over 160 million people.

Kamal Hossain, who has emerged as the face of the opposition alliance, welcomed the deployment of thousands of military personnel.

Al Jazeera reached out to the Election Commission office as well as the ruling party officials but did not receive a response at time of the publication.

The Bangladesh government has also come under scrutiny for dragging its feet on furnishing visas to international election observers.

The US State Department on Friday expressed “disappointment” over Bangladesh government’s “inability” to grant credentials and issue visas for monitors from Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL).

Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it was “disheartened” at the US statement.

“Accreditation of international election observers from a number of organizations including ANFREL is currently under process. In addition, the Election Commission has registered 118 local organizations and also approved 25,920 local observers to monitor the polls,” it said in a statement.

Ali Riaz, a political science professor with Illinois State University, said that the incident is disconcerting.

“I will not be surprised if it is read by the US policymakers, including the Congress, as an unwillingness of the Bangladeshi government to ensure a credible and acceptable election,” Riaz told Al Jazeera.

He said that the explanation of the Election Commission regarding the accreditation process is not convincing.

“This points to an unwillingness of the EC and Bangladeshi government to cooperate with foreign observers, even when the number is very small compared to any previous participatory elections.

“Add this to the absence of a level-playing field, large scale arrests of opposition candidates and activists, the impunity enjoyed by the ruling party activists in perpetrating violence, the credibility and integrity of the election is increasingly becoming questionable,” said Riaz.

Additional reporting by Saugato Boso from Dhaka

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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