Bangladesh's besieged ex-dictator threatens suicide

Bangladesh's former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad (above) threatened to kill himself on Thursday, Dec 5, 2013, after security forces besieged his home following his decision to boycott next month's elections. -- PHOTO: AFP
Bangladesh's former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad (above) threatened to kill himself on Thursday, Dec 5, 2013, after security forces besieged his home following his decision to boycott next month's elections. -- PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad threatened to kill himself Thursday after security forces besieged his home following his decision to boycott next month's elections.

"I have loaded four pistols and I've told the government that if they play any tricks with me, I will kill myself," Mr Ershad told a local television crew during an interview inside his home in the early hours.

"I will die before the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) or the police can lay a finger on me," he said, before making a trigger-pulling gesture towards his head.

The 83-year-old said Tuesday that he would not take part in the January 5 polls, further undermining the credibility of a contest which is also being boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies.

Large numbers of security forces then gathered on Wednesday outside his home in the upmarket Baridhara neighbourhood of the capital Dhaka, fuelling predictions the general was about to be arrested.

However Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Lutful Kabir told AFP that officers were deployed in the neighbourhood "to enhance security" around foreign embassies in Baridhara. Mr Ershad's secretary Khaled Akhter said RAB and plainclothes officers were still massed outside the general's home on Thursday morning, although the numbers had thinned slightly.

Despite the boycotts by Mr Ershad's Jatiya party and the BNP, as well as widespread political violence, the ruling Awami League is so far insisting the elections will go ahead as scheduled on January 5.

However there is strong pressure from key foreign players, including from the United States, for a compromise between the parties which could lead to the polls being pushed back.

The BNP and its smaller Islamist allies have demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and make way for a neutral caretaker government which would oversee the polls to prevent cheating.

As part of its push to force Hasina to stand aside, the opposition has enforced a series of strikes and transport blockades since late October.

There have been widespread clashes between police and opposition supporters, which have claimed the lives of at least 67 people in the last six weeks.