In Dhakas bazaars, SAARC evokes mixed feelings

Updated: Nov 13 2005, 05:30am hrs
Authorities in Bangladeshs capital , Dhaka have spent considerable money and effort to ensure that the weekends summit of South Asian leaders went off well, but many in the teeming city say they are being made poorer.

Worried by a series of bomb blasts across the country in recent months that were blamed on Islamic fundamentalists, Bangladesh has thrown a huge security cordon around Dhaka.

Large parts of the city have been barred to buses and trucks since Thursday, many markets have been ordered to close and special police are stationed at intersections, with machine pistols and rifles.

The Indians, the Nepalese, the Bhutanese can all come here, said Dulal Chakravarty, who owns a stall near the venue of the meetings, Karwan Bazaar, the biggest wholesale market in Dhaka. But Bangladeshis have been told to stay at home.

But this week, its narrow lanes were deserted, with the goods of many stalls tightly tied down under layers of blue plastic sheets. Residents of the city are also beginning to complain. Because trucks are not being allowed into the capital and because of the market closures, prices of vegetables have risen 20 % since the beginning of the week, said one.

But at night, the crowded city becomes transformed. Roads and buildings in many parts have been festooned with bright lights, which come on at dusk. Sidewalks have been spruced up and parks have freshly planted bushes and flowers.

I am happy about SAARC, said Mohammed Maani, a labourer who was waiting to catch a boat at the Sadarghat ferry terminal. Around him thousands of people were stepping off ferries or clambering onto them and bedding down on one of several decks for journeys that could take up to 12 hours. Coolies carried sacks of produce into some ferries, while vendors hawked apples, bread, tea and cigarettes.

It all looked crowded, but a ferry captian, Anwar Mian, said business was bad. Its because people dont want to travel during SAARC.But the meeting is good, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia will become chairman of South Asia.