DHAKA, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Bangladesh's main opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia Sunday afternoon joined her 18-party alliance's about seven-hour mass hunger strike in Dhaka to protest against the "oppressive policies of the government" and demand reinstatement of a non-party caretaker government system.
Along with Khaleda, also two-time former prime minister of Bangladesh, thousands of her followers, hundreds of leaders and activists of the 18-party opposition alliance, organizations and professional bodies have also joined the hunger strike which began at 10 a.m. local time Sunday.
Nazrul Islam Khan, senior spokesman of Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), said the opposition alliance is staging the strike to press home its demand for tracing disappeared BNP leader Elias Ali, release of recently detained 33 top opposition leaders and reinstatement of the caretaker government system.
A pavilion has also been set up and a good number of banners, printed with portraits of BNP's founder Ziaur Rahman and current chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, have been hung on and around the hunger strike venue near Dhaka's lush green Ramna park, where a huge contingent of law enforcers have been deployed.
BNP and its 17 allies, including key Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, which have been protesting the annulment of the caretaker government system through an amendment to the constitution, enforced the latest countrywide hartal on May 17 after a magistrate court ordered 33 leaders of the opposition alliance to jail in an arson attack case.
The opposition alliance leaders including BNP Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir were accused in the case for arson attack during back-to-back hartals last month.
Khaleda's BNP led the 18-party alliance enforced countrywide hartals on April 22-24 and April 29-30 to protest the "mysterious disappearance" of Elias Ali, the organizing secretary of the party, who along with his driver went missing on April 17 night.
Although the BNP chief blamed the government for Ali's " mysterious disappearance," her arch political rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also chief of the ruling party Bangladesh Awami League (AL), said this is nothing but a conspiracy hatched by the opposition party leader to make it an issue for anti-government agitation.
Addressing the hunger strike program, however, the BNP chairperson said her alliance will be forced to call hartal again if the government obstructs their peaceful democratic programs.
She said her alliance won't join national election under Hasina 's ruling AL party regime and urged the government to restore the non-party caretaker government system for holding next parliamentary elections.
Bangladesh Parliament on June 30 last year abolished the non- party caretaker government through the 15th constitution amendment, which means Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's incumbent Bangladesh AL- led government will stay in power during the next national elections slated for early 2014.
Hasina's ruling party that has two-thirds majority in parliament took move to annul the caretaker government system after the country's Supreme Court on May 10 last year repealed the 13th amendment to the country's constitution through which it (the caretaker system) was institutionalized in 1996.
Since 1996, the caretaker government has held elections in 2001 and 2008, which were considered by and large free and fair by local and international observers.
According to the caretaker government system, as the outgoing government hands over power, a caretaker government comes into place and its main objective is to create an environment in which an election can be held in a free and fair manner without any political influence of the outgoing government.