Bangladesh riots leave hundreds injured

Nov. 16, 2010 at 6:45 AM
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DHAKA, Bangladesh, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Police used batons, rubber bullets and tear gas to clear the streets of the capital as rioting Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters called for a general strike.

There were no reported deaths in the second successive day of street clashes but around 200 people, many of them belonging to the opposition BNP, were injured.

Police said they arrested around 300 people.

Several hundred BNP supporters gathered near party headquarters, blocking streets and taunting police who often made forays into the poorly armed protesters.

Several vehicles, including a public city transportation bus, were set on fire. Police retaliated by spraying the crowds with colored water from a water cannon to disperse the protesters.

The fighting was reminiscent of political street battles that plagued the nation only three or four years ago. The civil disturbances eventually forced a temporary military takeover of government pending fresh elections.

The Dhaka fighting, shown on television, was in support opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia whom police evicted from her house after the High Court ruled she was occupying it illegally.

Zia had lived in a military barracks that she leased for nearly 30 years, since the assassination of her husband, the former President Ziaur Rahman, in a military coup in 1981.

Earlier in the day, an emotional Zia had appeared on TV in tears to blame the current prime minister for her eviction. She claimed she was forcibly dragged from the house but the military police said she left of her own free will.

Zia has twice served as prime minister and is a rival of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, of the Bangladesh Awami League.

Zia stepped down as prime minister in October 2006 after mounting Islamist militancy and she handed power to a military caretaker government.

A state of emergency was declared in early 2007 and a planned early election in 2008 was postponed as police and security forces battled major street protests by rival political gangs.

The state of emergency in the country of 144 million was lifted Dec. 16, 2008, and the general election was about two weeks later. About 50,000 soldiers and 600,000 police were deployed during the election to guard against fraud and violence.

The Awami League formed a14-party grand alliance including Ershad's Jatiya Party, while the BNP formed a four-party alliance that included the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

It was the largest majority since the 1978 elections. BNP went from a two-thirds majority to a one-third minority of seats in Parliament.

During what became known as the Battle of the Begums -- begum being the term a woman of high social rank -- the two women leaders pledged to lower food prices and to tackle corruption and terrorism.

Hasina and her Awami League won the 2008 election by a surprise landslide in the 300-seat Parliament, routing Zia's BNP.

Bangladesh continues to be ranked by international organizations as one of the most corrupt nations.

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