KASTURI RANGAN, Special to the New York Times (May 31, 1981)
President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh was shot and killed in the port city of Chittagong early today and a broadcast by the Dacca radio said a little-known opposition group was responsible for the assassination.
A state of emergency was declared by Vice President Abdus Sattar, who assumed the duties of Acting President. Rebels announced over the radio from Chittagong that they were taking over the Government, but officials in Dacca said that they were still in control.
The 45-year-old President Zia, two aides and several bodyguards reportedly were killed as they were sleeping in a guest house in Chittagong, a district capital of 890,000 people.
Civilian Rights Are Suspended
The news of the killing and a proclamation of an emergency were broadcast over Dacca radio this morning. Acting President Sattar signed emergency legislation suspending the rights of citizens in the country of 87 million.
The Acting President ordered a curfew in Dacca, the capital, Chittagong and other major cities and called for a 40-day period of mourning for the President. President Zia, an army general who took over the Government in November 1975, was reported to have been shot during his visit to Chittagong near the border with Burma. Many opponents of the Government have been active in the area.
Dacca radio said ”miscreants” were responsible for the killings, but it gave no details. Another broadcast quoted the Government as saying that a group called Biplabi Parishad was responsible for the assassination and it called on a Maj. Gen. Manzur Ahmed to surrender. The organization was said to include rebels from the armed forces, and Major General Ahmed was believed to be its leader.
Army Reportedly Remains Loyal
Later radio reports said the rebels were led by Maj. Gen. Abul Manzur, The Associated Press reported. The rebels claimed to have taken control of the Government.
Lieut. Gen. H.M. Arshad, the army chief of staff, was quoted as saying that a revolutionary council headed by General Manzur had taken control of Chittagong radio station. But General Arshad said other members of the armed forces were remaining loyal to the Government.
Reports carried by Bangladesh radio and quoted by the Press Trust of India, a news agency, said President Zia and several aides and bodyguards were killed as they were sleeping in a district guest house in Chittagong at about 3:30 A.M. (5 P.M. Friday, New York time).
Dacca radio announced the news seven hours later along with an appeal to the armed forces ”not to be guided by provocations from outside.” The first reports of President Zia’s death suggested only that he had died in an accident.
According to information reaching New Delhi, the group that seized Chittagong radio also appeared to be in control of the Chittagong area. Among the radio announcements was one declaring that a treaty of friendship between Indian and Bangladesh signed in 1972 was abrogated.
Communications Are Interrupted
Chittagong radio went dead at about 2 P.M. Communications between India and Bangladesh also ended as telecommunication lines were cut. Acting President Sattar, a 76-year-old lawyer who had been in key positions of the Government since 1975, said in his broadcast that there would be no change in foreign policy and that agreements with foreign countries would be honored.
President Zia had been in firm control of the Government since he seized power five years ago in the last of a series of army coups following the assassination of President Mujibur Rahman, an immensely popular figure who led Bangladesh to independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Some Bangladeshis use their first names as the surname. Ziaur Rahman becomes Zia, instead of Ziaur, in subsequent references because the last two letters of his surname form an article that is used with the second name. Similarly, the name of Mujibur Rahman becomes Mujib on second reference.
President Zia, designating himself as the martial law administrator, kept the country under strict controls for awhile. But he appeared to have consolidated his position after he put down a series of revolts by low-ranking servicemen in northern Bangladesh, including an abortive coup by air force rebels in 1977.
An Overwhelming Election Victory
He was confirmed in the office in a national referendum that showed overwhelming support for his Government. President Zia lifted martial law and began to push a popular concept of revolution aimed at making Bangladesh self-sufficient in food.
National harvests usually fall about 20 percent short of fulfilling Bangladesh’s needs, and the country has remained largely dependent on international aid. Western countries have contributed $10 billion in food and other aid since 1971.
President Zia was generally regarded as a benevolent dictator as he strived to change the image of his country as one of the world’s most backward. Huge irrigation projects and vigorous campaigns for birth control appeared to be making headway.
President Zia was also pursuing a plan for regional cooperation among Southeast Asian countries that found a ready response in several countries of the region, including India.
However, political problems resurfaced suddenly.
Daughter Returns From Exile
Sheik Mujib’s Awami League elected his 33-year-old daughter, Hasina Wazed, as president of the party. Sent into exile in India after the death of her father, she returned to Dacca this month to a tumultuous welcome even as the Government-controlled media unleashed a propaganda barrage against her, saying she was an Indian agent.
Disputes over an Indian-built dike that diverted some water from the Ganges to the Indian side and sovereignty over a new island that emerged near the coasts of India and Bangladesh have soured relations between the two countries.
As Dacca appeared to be adopting a policy of confrontation with India, New Delhi attributed the belligerence to growing internal tension threatening the stability of President Zia’s Government.
In a message today, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India expressed ”deep concern” over the development in a ”friendly” neighboring country and renewed a pledge of cooperation and friendship with Bangladesh.