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Crime problem weighs on Bangladesh government
Sat Sep 26, 2009 3:17am EDT
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By Nizam Ahmed
DHAKA (Reuters) - Is crime on the rise in Bangladesh since a democratic government took charge eight months ago, after two years under a military-backed interim authority?
Holding the line on violent crime is important to attract aid and investment to the impoverished South Asian country of nearly 150 million, which has a history marred by frequent violence.
"The government must act immediately before rising crime becomes a pattern and maligns the image of the country," Asif Nazrul, an analyst and Dhaka University law teacher, told Reuters.
Hardly a day passes without Bangladesh newspapers carrying photos of murder victims' corpses lying in hospitals, on the street or in rural fields.
Some were killed in notorious "cross fire" between criminals and law enforcement agents -- regular police and the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) akin to other countries' SWAT teams.
A statutory government statement accompanies such death reports, saying the casualties occurred as the criminals opened fire at law officers pursuing them, usually at night.
"They (police or RAB) fired back in self-defense, resulting in fatalities," the statement says. Often there are casualties on the security force side too.
Opposition political parties say the cross-fire deaths are linked to graft, as corrupt ruling party officials and bureaucrats try to eliminate rivals and help steer government contracts and related kickbacks to friends and themselves.
Human rights groups meanwhile criticize the killings as effectively "extra-judicial" means of trying to enforce order, and have urged the authorities to crack down on the practice.
The government denies such accusations.
"No one has been killed by law enforcers deliberately or (is) being tasked by the government" to do extra-judicial killings, Home Minister Sahara Khatun said recently.
Being a law-enforcement agent does not mean one cannot shoot back in self defense when under fire, she added.
Sahara also told parliament the "law and order situation did not deteriorate, rather improved since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took the reins."
Hasina assumed office in January after winning what most independent observers considered a clean election. Continued...
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