DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A Bangladeshi court issued arrest warrants on Wednesday for former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and 27 other opposition party leaders on accusations they instigated an arson attack on a passenger bus during an anti-government protest last year.
Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge Kamrul Hossain Mollah made the order after accepting charges pressed by detectives that Zia instigated the violence when she asked her supporters to enforce a blockade to remove the administration of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Defense lawyers argued the case was politically motivated and the accused were not involved in any violence during the three months of protests that paralyzed the country beginning in early January a year ago.
Prosecutors argued that during the protests some 150 people died, mostly in fire bombings by unidentified attackers, and Zia and her colleagues must take responsibility. The Jan. 23 attack on a bus in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area killed one person and injured 30 others.
It is unlikely that Zia will be arrested anytime soon. She could seek interim bail from the High Court and such political cases usually get prolonged. The judge asked police to report to the court on April 27 on what has been done to execute the warrants.
The protest and blockade came as Hasina’s government marked its first anniversary of returning to power. The January 2014 election was boycotted by Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its partners, including the country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami.
Hasina earlier vowed to arrest those responsible and blamed Zia and Jamaat-e-Islami for using fierce tactics in opposing the government, but Zia rejected the allegations.