Up to 16 officers with ‘extreme religious views’ plotted to overthrow prime minister, Bangladeshi military claims
By Associated Press in Dhaka
The Bangladeshi military says it has foiled a plot by a group of hardline officers, their retired colleagues and Bangladeshi conspirators living abroad to overthrow the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.
The coup attempt underlined tensions between Hasina’s government and elements of the military that have lingered since a mutiny in 2009.
Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq told a news conference the military had specific evidence that up to 16 current and former Bangladeshi military officers “with extreme religious views” were involved in the “heinous conspiracy”. The plot was instigated by Bangladeshi conspirators living abroad, he said.
Two retired officers, Lieutenant Colonel Ehsan Yusuf and Major Zakir, have been arrested, Razzaq said, but did not reveal when the arrests had been made. He said the authorities were looking for another fugitive serving officer, Major Ziaul Haq, who had fled his post after the arrests of Yusuf and Zakir.
In 2009, two months after Hasina took office after a sweeping general election victory, Bangladeshi border guards mutinied over pay, perks and promotion prospects. At least 74 military commanders were killed, many of them the commanders of the mutineers.
Military officials were furious with Hasina for not ordering an assault on the compound but instead ending the standoff by offering an amnesty to the mutineers that was later rescinded.
Since then, the military has been pressing for an early trial for the mutineers. Hasina’s government is trying more than 800 border guards on charges of killing, arson and looting in Dhaka. Hundreds who mutinied at locations outside the capital have already been tried and sentenced to prison.
It is not clear why the alleged coup participants are being described as having extreme religious views. Hasina banned Islamic militant groups after taking office in 2009, and has warned in recent speeches that such groups are “conspiring against [the] elected government”.
Bangladesh, a parliamentary democracy since 1990, has seen two presidents killed in military coups and 19 other failed coup attempts.
Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh, was assassinated in the country’s first military coup in 1975.
Another coup, in 1981, killed the army general turned president Ziaur Rahman, the husband of the former prime minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s main rival.
The country’s last military ruler, General Hussain Mohammad Ershad, was ousted in 1990 in a pro-democracy movement led jointly by Hasina and Zia.