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Bangladesh arrests TV boss as unrest toll nears 50

February 2, 2015

The owner of a leading Bangladeshi television station has been arrested as part of a wider crackdown on the opposition in a deepening political crisis that has left nearly 50 people dead, police said Monday.

Several networks broadcast footage of a police officer getting into the car of Mosaddek Ali Falu, chairman of private station Ntv, after he came out of the office of opposition leader Khaleda Zia on Sunday night.

“He was arrested on charges of arson attack on a vehicle,” Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP on Monday.

Falu has been one of the closest aides of Zia and was her political secretary when she was premier from 2001-06. He owns an array of businesses, including a new online news portal which launched on Sunday.

Last month Abdus Salam, the owner of Bangladesh’s oldest private TV station, was arrested after his channel aired a speech of Zia’s fugitive son live from London. Salam has since been charged with sedition, which could see him sentenced to life in jail for airing the speech.

Salam’s arrest came as the government launched a massive crackdown on the opposition in an effort to quell its month-long protests.

More than 10,000 opposition activists have been arrested, including dozens of front-rank officials. Others have gone into hiding.

Zia called the protests early last month, urging supporters to enforce a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways in an effort to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to call new polls.

The protests have triggered widespread violence that left at least 46 people dead — most victims of firebombing attacks on buses and lorries.

In the latest deaths, two activists from the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party were shot dead by police, including a 23-year-old student.

Suspected saboteurs, meanwhile, removed clips from railway tracks, forcing a packed train to derail as the blockade entered a fifth week.

State-run Bangladesh Railway officials said the locomotive and two coaches came off the tracks in the southeast, snapping the rail link between the port city of Chittagong and rest of the country.

“It was an act of sabotage by the protesters. No one has been arrested,” BR’s spokesman Syed Zahurul Islam told AFP.

Local media said 15 people suffered minor bruises and cuts.

The accident occurred despite the government’s deployment last month of more than 8,000 village police guards along the 3,000 kilometre (1,875 mile) rail network.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.