Vehicles attacked on 2nd day of Bangladesh strike

AP News
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Posted: Jun 13, 2011 2:34 AM
Vehicles attacked on 2nd day of Bangladesh strike

Protesters set a bus on fire and smashed several vehicles Monday on the second day of a general strike against government moves to amend the constitution, news reports said.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamic fundamentalist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, enforced the 36-hour nationwide strike beginning at dawn Sunday, a working day in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. It is scheduled to end at dusk Monday.

Private television stations Somoy TV and ATN Bangla reported that the violence erupted Monday in the capital, Dhaka. Television footage showed riot police using batons to disperse the protesters.

The reports said no one was injured.

The opposition, which staged a similar general strike early this month, says the government wants to repeal a constitutional provision that requires it to hand over power at the end of its term to a nonpartisan administration to conduct new elections. A former chief justice is usually chosen to head the three-month caretaker administration.

The change would mean the next general elections, due in 2014, would be overseen by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. That could lead to vote-rigging favoring Hasina's party, opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said Saturday.

Bangladesh, a parliamentary democracy, has a history of political violence, and opposition parties commonly stage general strikes to highlight their demands.

The latest strike closed schools and shops for the second straight day Monday. Even though more vehicles defied the shutdown, Dhaka was without its normal bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It is difficult to measure public support for the strikes, with many people staying home only to avoid attacks by anti-government protesters.

"I don't like such strikes, but I'm not taking any chance," said Abdul Alim, who shuttered his convenience store in Dhaka's central Malibagh district.

On the first day of the shutdown Sunday, authorities jailed 123 protesters in one-day trials for attacking buses and creating strike-related violence, said Home Minister Shahara Khatun.

Thousands of riot police patrolled the streets of Dhaka on Monday.

Police official Krishnapada Roy said former government ministers Hafizuddin Ahmed and Altaf Hossain were arrested Sunday for trying to lead a procession. The two were in police custody on Monday, he said.

"We will not bow to police harassment. Our protest will continue," said opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.

"The government wants to cling to power. That's why it wants to amend the constitution," Alamgir said.

The government denies the charge. Its move came after the Supreme Court ruled that the provision, included in the constitution in 1996, is undemocratic.

Since the provision's introduction, Bangladesh has held three parliamentary polls supervised by nonpartisan interim governments.

Government spokesman Syed Ashraful Islam renewed a call to discuss the dispute in Parliament.

"The door of talks is open," Islam told reporters late Sunday. "The opposition is welcome to discuss the political dispute in Parliament."