BANGLADESH: Mujib: Death of the Founder

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When India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to dispense with the irksome processes of democracy and arrogate all power to herself in June, she was able to take a few cues from her next-door neighbor. Last January Sheik Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh, impatient with the plodding progress and growing anarchy of his impoverished country, pushed legislation through Parliament changing the government to a presidential system giving him enlarged powers. The move surprised some and saddened others, since "Mujib" had long impressed observers as a man of reason and moderation as well as great courage.

Last week, accusing Mujib of ineffectual leadership, the armed forces seized the Bangladesh government in a predawn coup. The man the Bengalis called Bangabandhu (father of Bengal), who led the country to independence from Pakistan only four years ago, was killed and replaced by a longtime associate. Although communications with Dacca were cut shortly after the takeover and reports were sketchy, it was clear that the coup was bloody. In addition to Mujib, 55, Prime Minister Mohammed Mansoor Ali and two of Mujib's nephews were also killed. So reportedly were at least 200 other supporters. At week's end the coup's leaders announced that the slain President was buried Saturday in his home village near Dacca with "full honors." There were no other details on how he died.

Islamic Republic. The first signs of trouble came when gunfire was heard near Mujib's house in Dacca. At 5:15 a.m., a Major Dalim announced over Radio Bangladesh that the armed forces had taken over and changed the country's name from the People's Republic of Bangladesh to the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh. The new President, he declared, would be Khandakar Moshtaque Ahmed, 56, who had been Minister of Foreign Trade and Commerce in Mujib's Cabinet. Dalim further announced that martial law, as well as a 24-hour curfew, had been proclaimed throughout the country. "Anybody trying to resist the new revolutionary government or violating any instructions given so far will be dealt with severely," he added. By the time he had finished speaking, tanks were patrolling the streets of Dacca.

In a later broadcast, the new President claimed that the takeover had been prompted by "corruption, nepotism and attempts to concentrate power on one head." He charged that Mujib had failed to solve the country's economic problems. But when Khandakar announced a new 16-man civilian ministry, it turned out to be composed entirely of members of Mujib's Cabinet.

Some observers pointed out that while Khandakar had served as Foreign Minister in the government-in-exile during the Pakistani civil war, he may not have been loyal to Mujib. There were allegations after independence that he had participated in U.S.-initiated attempts to prevent the breakaway of Bangladesh. Mujib piqued Khandakar by relieving him of the foreign ministry, appointing Dr. Kamal Hossain, who was in Belgrade when the coup occurred.

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