DHAKA: At least two people were killed and dozens hurt across Bangladesh yesterday when police and ruling party activists clashed with protesters blocking roads to demand early polls under a caretaker government.
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up rallies in a dozen places in the capital Dhaka. Demonstrators threw scores of small hand-made bombs, burnt tyres and torched cars and buses.
Police said one person died in a knife attack as protesters from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and supporters of the ruling party clashed in the old part of Dhaka.
They said a second man was killed in the northwestern town of Enayetpur.
Police and witnesses said supporters of the BNP, led by former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, and its allies set ablaze about 30 buses, trucks and cars in the capital Dhaka and other parts of the country.
“We are trying to contain the battles between activists and police, which has prevented movement of vehicles and forced residents from the streets,” a police officer said.
The BNP staged the rallies to demand early elections under a neutral caretaker government.
The caretaker system was laid down in a constitutional clause that has been scrapped by the incumbent administration led by the Awami League party.
“A young tailor was chopped by unidentified attackers during the clashes (in Dhaka) between BNP protesters and Chhatra League activists,” said local police chief Nazrul Islam, referring to the ruling party’s student wing.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said the person was one of his party activists. He said three other opposition workers were also killed in attacks by police and ruling party supporters.
Police in the capital arrested about 50 people for using violence, said Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman, adding 11 buses or cars were torched in the city.
Some 10,000 police were deployed to try to keep highways open in the country but officials said traffic on many roads ground to a halt.
“We allowed peaceful protests. But once they started attacking cars and buses and throwing cocktail bombs, we used non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them,” deputy police commissioner Imtiaz Ahmed said in Dhaka.
At Enayetpur, clashes between hundreds of ruling party and opposition supporters left a 65-year-old man dead, local police chief Humayun Kabir said.
A senior BNP official who is also a former lawmaker was hit by live ammunition during clashes in Dhaka and was undergoing an operation, a hospital official said.
Police also clashed with protesters in the cities of Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal and Sylhet. In the northern town of Palashbari security forces fired non-lethal shots at hundreds of protesters blocking a road, officials said.
The past four general elections in Bangladesh were held under the caretaker government system. This took over for three months at the end of an elected government’s tenure, and oversaw the next round of national polls.
The BNP and its 17 smaller allies including Islamic parties have said they will not take part in any future elections unless the system is restored.