DHAKA: Bangladesh police on Tuesday shot dead nearly a dozen more alleged drug dealers officials said, as its no-holds barred offensive drew accusations of murder from rights groups and opposition parties.
At least 33 people have been gunned down in late-night shootouts since Bangladesh declared an all-out war on drugs a week ago.
The country has been struggling to contain a surging trade in illegal drugs, most notably methamphetamine pills known as “yaba” that are being sold by the hundreds of millions.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has vowed to fight the “drug menace” with the same intensity as a previous campaign that pursued homegrown militants and left dozens of Islamic radicals dead.
Police said four “top drug dealers” were gunned down in the rural districts of Comilla and Nilphamari, and seven more were killed elsewhere in Bangladesh.
But the country’s main opposition party the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said one of its student activists, Amjad Hossain, had been unjustly targeted in one of the sweeps.
Police in the northern district of Netrokona told AFP that Hossain was a prominent dealer facing 13 charges related to drugs and violence.
“He was illegally murdered in cold blood,” BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed told AFP.
The opposition welcomed the push against drugs, Ahmed said, but feared the crackdown could also be used as a “witch hunt against anti-government activists” before a general election in December.
Rights activists also described the killings — all conducted late at night — as questionable and showing disregard for the court system.
“Drug dealing is a heinous crime. Yet everyone has the right to stand before a court for trial rather than being a victim of these incidents,” activist Nur Khan Liton told AFP.
Thousands of alleged dealers have been arrested by the Rapid Action Battalion, the same elite police unit that spearheaded the push against extremists which ended with at least 80 alleged militants dead.
Bangladesh has been struggling to control a huge surge in yaba crossing its southeastern border from Myanmar, where the cheap pills are manufactured in enormous quantities.
Authorities last year seized a record 40 million yaba pills but said an estimated 250-300 million others managed to enter the market.
Nine million yaba tablets were seized in less than three months earlier this year, including nearly two million in a single haul.—AFP