DHAKA: Bangladesh’s former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad threatened to kill himself Thursday after security forces besieged his home following his decision to boycott next month’s elections.
“I have loaded four pistols and I’ve told the government that if they play any tricks with me, I will kill myself,” Ershad told a local television crew during an interview inside his home in the early hours.
“I will die before the RAB (the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion) or the police can lay a finger on me,” he said, before making a trigger-pulling gesture toward his head.
The 83-year-old said Tuesday that he would not take part in the Jan. 5 polls, further undermining the credibility of a contest which is also being boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies.
Large numbers of security forces then gathered on Wednesday outside his home in the upmarket Baridhara neighborhood of the capital Dhaka, fueling expectations the general was about to be arrested.
However Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Lutful Kabir told AFP officers were deployed in the neighborhood “to enhance security” around foreign embassies in Baridhara.
Ershad’s secretary Khaled Akhter said RAB and plainclothes officers were still massed outside the general’s home on Thursday morning, although the numbers had thinned slightly.
Ershad ruled Bangladesh from 1982-90 before he was ousted by a popular movement.
Despite the boycotts by Ershad’s Jatiya party and the BNP, as well as widespread political violence, the ruling Awami League is so far insisting the elections will go ahead as scheduled on Jan. 5.
However there is strong pressure from key foreign players, including from the United States, for a compromise between the parties which could lead to the polls being pushed back.
The BNP and its smaller Islamist allies have demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and make way for a neutral caretaker government which would oversee the polls to prevent cheating.
As part of its push to force Hasina to stand aside, the opposition has enforced a series of strikes and transport blockades since late October.
Trains have been derailed after protesters tore up tracks, with three passengers killed in one such incident Wednesday.
There have been widespread clashes between police and opposition supporters, which have claimed the lives of at least 67 people in the last six weeks.
Police have arrested at least nine senior officials of the BNP, including a former mayor of Dhaka city detained on Thursday on charges of inciting violence during the protests.
The opposition, meanwhile, called a fresh 72-hour nationwide transport blockade from Saturday to press their demands.