Riots, bombs in Bangladesh strike

2012-12-11 17:39
A Bangladeshi woman mourns a relative who was killed in a fire at a garment factory outside Dhaka. (Hasan Raza, AP)

A Bangladeshi woman mourns a relative who was killed in a fire at a garment factory outside Dhaka. (Hasan Raza, AP)

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Dhaka - Explosions of home-made bombs were reported across the Bangladeshi capital on Tuesday as opposition activists enforcing a day long general strike rioted and clashed with police.

Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds of people who were smashing vehicles. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured in the violence described by witnesses and television reports in parts of the capital, Dhaka,

A coalition of 18 opposition parties was enforcing the strike to demand that a caretaker government be restored before the next national elections due in 2014, while a key coalition partner wants their leaders facing charges of crimes against humanity to be freed from jail.

Schools and businesses remained closed in Dhaka and other major cities and towns on Tuesday and transportation was largely disrupted across Bangladesh, a parliamentary democracy that has a history of fierce political violence.

Amid the violence, the United States on Tuesday urged the two main political parties to resolve their disputes through dialogue.

Independent television reported the detention of at least six opposition activists from the Dhaka University area in the capital.

Police said activists torched at least 21 vehicles in Dhaka late on Monday after police arrested a senior leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamic party and the main partner of Zia's party, has been demanding the release of nine of its leaders facing charges of crimes against humanity dating back to the 1971 independence war against Pakistan. Two other leaders from Zia's party face similar charges and are now jailed.

Zia has criticized the trial, calling it a farce.

Politically motivated

In 1971, Bangladesh - at the time the eastern wing of Pakistan - became independent after a bloody, nine-month war with the help of India, Pakistan's bitter rival.

Jamaat-e-Islami leaders are accused of aiding the Pakistani army in killing and raping during the war. The leaders are behind bars pending trial proceedings. But Jamaat-e-Islami says the charges are politically motivated.

Police said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting secretary general of Zia's party, was arrested on Monday on charges of instigating violence and torching a vehicle during a nationwide road blockade on Sunday.

The opposition said it would enforce another general strike on Thursday unless Alamgir and others detained during the violence are freed by Wednesday.

Opposition spokesperson MK Anwar said at least 250 people were detained during Tuesday's strike.

Dozens of vehicles were burned and smashed on Sunday and at least two people died during the opposition-sponsored blockade.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina scrapped the 15-year-old caretaker system last year in line with a Supreme Court order that ruled it unconstitutional, saying the constitution allows only popularly elected people to run the government. Opposition parties fear the election will be rigged if the current party remains in power.

The government has blamed the opposition for the recent violence, saying the protests are aimed at protecting 1971 suspects. The administration has vowed not to go back to the unconstitutional provision of the caretaker government system.

Hasina's Awami League party and Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party are the main contenders for securing power.

Robert O Blake, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, called upon the bickering parties to hold a dialogue to find a solution to the political impasse.

Blake, who was on a four-day official visit to Dhaka, told reporters at a news conference that the US would support any resolution that comes from the two major parties.

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