Hossain said at least 131 opposition activists were arrested in a precautionary crackdown, many of whom were picked up for torching and damaging vehicles on Saturday night.

Sahara Khatun, the interior minister, gave warning that the government would prevent violence and lawlessness by all means.

Batons used

Bangladesh television said activists of the ruling Awami League party clashed with opposition supporters near a university in Dhaka where witnesses said a legislator and 10 others were injured as police used batons to halt street marches.

The strike, led by the BNP and its ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, aims at drawing public attention to "failures and excesses" of the Awami League party in a bid to muster support for early elections, which are not due before the end of 2013.

The opposition accuses the government of being unable to deliver on promises such as improving power and gas supplies, improving the law-and-order situation, and halting a rise in food prices.

They also want Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the prime minister, to scrap all agreements she signed during a visit to India in January, including one that allows India to use the Chittagong port.

The strike was the first in the country since January 2007 when an army-backed interim government took control of the country following months of political unrest.

Media targeted

Al Jazeera's Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dhaka, said that in the last few months media outlets close to the opposition have been shut down by the government.

For example, Channel 1 was taken off air abruptly because it allegedly did not meet legal requirements, but many staff members believe they lost their jobs because the ruling party resents critical commentary.

Fahim Ahmed, the chief news editor for Channel 1, told Al Jazeera: "It is the political culture of our country. It is not one government's decision; it is the whole culture that is this type".

The Awami League swept to power in January 2009 after a landslide election victory on December 29, 2008.

The BNP, which ruled the country twice after democracy was restored in 1990, was reduced to a small opposition in the polls.