Tens of thousands mourn son of Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia

A large crowd of thousands including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters gather to offer funeral prayers for Arafat Rahman Koko, son of former Bangladeshi president Ziaur Rahman and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, in Dhaka on Jan 27, 201
A large crowd of thousands including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters gather to offer funeral prayers for Arafat Rahman Koko, son of former Bangladeshi president Ziaur Rahman and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, in Dhaka on Jan 27, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Tens of thousands of mourners turned out Tuesday for the funeral of Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia's son in a massive show of support for the embattled former premier.

Arafat Rahman Koko, 44, died of a heart attack on Saturday in Malaysia, a devastating blow to the opposition leader after she launched fresh protests this month to try to topple bitter rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Police inspector Alamgir, who uses one name, estimated the number of mourners at 50,000 to 60,000, while another police officer put the total at around 100,000.

Traffic ground to a halt in central Dhaka as crowds spilled onto roads around a mosque for the funeral after Koko's body arrived home on Tuesday morning.

"I joined the funeral because I felt sorry for him. His mother is confined in her office and his eldest brother is in exile in London," said Mohammad Nuruzzaman, a supporter of Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Koko, who was not active in politics, has been living in exile in Thailand and Malaysia since 2008 after the then army-backed government launched corruption cases against him.

He was sentenced to six years in jail and fined US$2.5 million (S$3.13 million) in June 2011 for laundering money through accounts in Singapore between 2004 and 2006, when Zia was in power.

Despite Koko's death, opposition officials said the BNP leader was determined to maintain a nationwide transport blockade she called to force Hasina from office.

Attempts to enforce the blockade have sparked clashes that have left least 36 people dead.

The latest crisis began when police confined Zia to her office after she threatened to lead a mass rally against Hasina.

Zia wants Hasina to call fresh polls after last year's controversial general election, which opposition parties boycotted on the grounds it would be rigged.

Hasina on Saturday called on Zia to offer her condolences, but, in an apparent snub, the premier was left standing outside the 69-year-old's office before being turned away.

Zia and Hasina are known for their bitter rivalry, which has poisoned Bangladeshi politics for nearly three decades.