Dhaka: At least five persons were killed, over 100 injured, trains and a Hindu temple were attacked as opposition parties today enforced a 60-hour strike across Bangladesh demanding a neutral caretaker government to oversee the next general election.
Supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its rightwing ally Jamaat-e-Islami set afire vehicles and exploded crude bombs in the capital city Dhaka as the strike got under way early this morning.
The incidents of clashes, arson, vandalism and homemade bomb blasts were reported from other parts of the country, including port city Chittagong, Rajshahi, Natore and Bogra.
In Rajshahi, demonstrators attacked a Hindu temple and vandalised several shops, Bdnews24 reported. In Chittagong, the report said picketers stopped an auto-rickshaw carrying a pregnant woman to a hospital and set it afire.
Police recovered gunpowder and 17 handmade bombs from a house in the Dhaka University staff quarters here.
Opposition supporters tried to set on fire a record room of Dhaka chief metropolitan magistrate’s court using petrol. Officials said the blaze damaged some documents.
However, public life in Dhaka remained largely normal as people joined their works. In northwestern Joypurhat, the opposition members set two trains afire, injuring nearly 70 passengers.
Demonstrators torched the two trains – Rupsha Express and Rocket Mail within a short span of time at Joypurhat, a railway spokesman told PTI. The trains were bound for southwestern Khulna, he added.
Authorities overnight deployed thousands of additional police and paramilitary personnel countrywide to prevent any untoward incident.
Police said opposition members hacked to death a ruling Awami League supporter in western Jessore while a BNP worker was killed in shootout with police in neighbouring Faridpur.
The third death occurred in Pabna as activists of the ruling party allegedly opened fire on BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami men in Ishwardi upazila, the Daily Star reported. Two other persons were killed elsewhere in the country.
“Some 11 vehicles were set on fire at different parts of the (Dhaka) city since the morning,” a police spokesman said.
Earlier, in an apparent pre-strike action opposition activists exploded bombs in front of houses of several ministers, the chief election commissioner and two TV channels, injuring several including two journalists.
Doctors said one of the journalists was struggling for life with critical wounds at the military hospital in Dhaka.
The strike came as telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP chief Khaleda Zia yesterday could make little headway in easing tensions. Hasina yesterday reached out to her arch-rival Zia, a day after BNP supporters staged violent protests across the country to push their demand for setting up an interim government comprising non-political figures ahead of polls.
“We will hold talks but cannot withdraw the hartal,” Zia’s aide Maruf Kamal Sohel quoted her as telling the premier.
Hasina has proposed the formation of a caretaker government with representatives of all political parties. Zia, however, rejected the proposal and floated a formula for creating a neutral poll-time caretaker regime.
Zia has also ruled out the possibility of contesting polls, which are to be held by January 25, 2014, if Hasina remained as head of the government.
The government is yet to formally respond to Zia’s proposal. The Awami League, which has a three-fourths majority in the current parliament, scrapped the caretaker system by amending the Constitution two years ago. It acted after the Supreme Court ruled that the system was contrary to the Constitution.
The BNP has repeatedly contended that polls will be fair only under a non-party government.
But the Awami League insisted that the caretaker system had proved counter-productive as it was abused and it failed to protect democracy. It further said the system paved the ways for installation of army-backed regimes.