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Tension rises in Bangladesh as polls anniversary protests turn violent

In protest, Khaleda called for an indefinite nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways.

By: Reuters | Dhaka |
January 5, 2015 7:27:50 pm

Bangladesh was on edge on Monday after two protesters were shot dead and scores injured in clashes between the ruling party and opposition activists, a grim marking of the first anniversary of last year’s controversial and violent national polls.

The normally clogged streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, were nearly empty on Monday afternoon, as authorities cut off bus, rail and ferry services in to the city and thousands of riot police were deployed in anticipation of more unrest.

“Security has been ramped up across the country, including Dhaka, to thwart any untoward incidents,” Dhaka district police chief Habibur Rahman told Reuters.

Bangladesh has been a state of political uncertainty since last January, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League came to power for a second consecutive term after a bloody parliamentary election that was boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and deemed as flawed by international observers.

On Monday, despite police warnings, opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia refused to call off rallies planned in Dhaka to mark what the BNP has dubbed “democracy killing day.”

Khaleda, a former prime minister herself, has demanded fresh polls under a neutral administration, calling Hasina’s government “undemocratic and illegal”.

The opposition leader says she has been confined to her office in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave since Saturday, according to BNP’s party officials, with armoured vehicles equipped with water cannons outside.

In protest, Khaleda called for an indefinite nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways.

“The government has turned the whole country into a prison,” Khaleda told reporters.

The government denied Khaleda was being held against her will, and says it has deployed extra security at the opposition leader’s office for her protection.

“Who has confined her?” media quoted Hasina as asking at a party meeting on Sunday. “She can go to her residence any time.”

Hasina and Khaleda, both related to former national leaders, have nursed a long and bitter rivalry, and have dominated politics in Bangladesh for more than two decades.

Police said two protesters in their 20s were killed in Natore district during clashes between ruling and opposition party activists. The opposition said the victims were BNP activists, though police have not confirmed their identity.

BNP officials said hundreds of their supporters had been detained since Saturday. Scores of protesters have been injured in clashes in Dhaka, the port city of Chittagong and elsewhere.

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