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Political Killing In Bangladesh Spurs Daughter's Activism

By Nora Boustany
Friday, February 25, 2005; Page A16

Hundreds of people had gathered in an auditorium last month to hear Shah A.M.S. Kibria, a member of Bangladesh's Parliament and a leading opposition political figure, speak at a rally in his home district of Habiganj.

As he finished and made his way to the exit, the lights went off. A grenade explosion thundered through the hall. Seconds later, the lights came on again.

Shah A.M.S. Kibria was killed in a grenade attack in Bangladesh. (Family Photo)

Read Nora Boustany's previous Diplomatic Dispatches columns.

The Jan. 27 attack left Kibria badly injured, with about 100 shrapnel wounds in his legs, said his daughter, Nazli Kibria. The statesman, a member of the opposition Awami League party, was ferried by ambulance to a rural hospital, but it lacked a blood supply and saline.

He was then rushed to another hospital, but party members were told there were no doctors available. In the capital, Dhaka, Kibria's wife, Asma, tried to arrange for him to be evacuated by helicopter, but her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Kibria, who also served as a finance minister and foreign secretary, was still lucid as the ambulance raced toward the capital. But the journey was delayed when the vehicle ran out of gas. Shortly before it reached Dhaka, Kibria's heartbeat stopped, his daughter said, based on an account given by her cousin, in whose arms he died.

Nazli Kibria, a professor of sociology at Boston University, said she was on a flight home within three hours after her father died. Television screens throughout the airport were broadcasting images from bomb attacks in Iraq preceding elections there. "The scenes looked so familiar, but no one was talking about Bangladesh or my father," she said.

Nazli Kibria was in Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials and create awareness about political violence in Bangladesh. On behalf of her family, she is also pressing for an international investigation into her father's assassination.

"It's definitely not the first," Kibria said in an interview Wednesday, referring to attacks on those who oppose the government. "Over the past four years, there have been a series of bomb attacks targeting opposition leaders, writers, journalists and religious minorities such as Hindus" and other groups, she said.

At least 20 people have been killed and hundreds injured in a series of bombings targeting opposition rallies since the spring of 2004, according to human rights organizations and news accounts. Movie theaters, music festivals and even a Valentine's Day reception at Dhaka University have all been the scenes of attacks in Bangladesh, which is the size of Iowa but with 141 million people -- about half the U.S. population.

"Amnesty International is extremely concerned about the trends in political killings and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators," said T. Kumar, the group's advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific region. "We urge the U.S. administration to take strong, firm and immediate steps to address this ongoing violence and human rights violations. They are going after senior leaders of opposition parties, and this is an attempt to brutally silence them."

"Bangladesh is in crisis," Kibria said. "My father's assassination has become a symbol, a rallying point of discontent, and my mother has been calling for a nonviolent protest movement."

Every Thursday -- the day of the week A.M.S. Kibria died -- many Bangladeshis now wear pale blue ribbons in solidarity, she said, and two silent public protests have been held, with participants carrying black banners.

Nazli Kibria said that at the second of the silent half-hour rallies, on Feb. 12, about 100 people were rounded up by police. Her mother has since urged supporters to collect white sheets bearing slogans written in red ink calling for the killers to be brought to justice and to display them outside her house.

"People are frustrated and fed up. There is considerable support. Bangladeshis living in London, Boston and New York have been making these sheets and sending them over," she said. "The world must help."

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