Opposition protesters have blocked roads and railways in Bangladesh after the government rejected their calls to postpone general elections scheduled for January.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) along with religiously conservative groups called for a 48-hour action, starting from Tuesday after the election commission announced the January 5 date for the vote, defying the threat of a boycott by the 18-party opposition alliance.

The opposition immediately demanded a suspension of the date, saying they would not take part in any polls while Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, still in power. They want her to resign and make way for a vote under a neutral caretaker government.

Violence erupted across the country on Monday night and Tuesday starting immediately after Chief Elections Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad announced the plans and urged parties to take part in the contest for the 300-seat parliament.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at hundreds of protesters who took to the streets in the western city of Rajshahi and central Khulna, leaving at least 30 people injured, national television station Channel 24 said.

Police and witnesses said that at least 100 cars were set ablaze and activists attacked a police post in northeastern Habiganj district located in the northwest of Dhaka, 180km away from the capital, according to Reuters news agency.

Protesters die in blast

Opposition supporters hurled dozens of crude bombs, clashed with police, and blocked roads and railways in major cities and towns, the police said, adding that three protesters died in total in protests.

A train was derailed at Gouripur, some 100km north of the capital Dhaka, on Tuesday after opposition supporters removed sleepers from the tracks, according police statements. They said that no one was injured, but the incident disrupted train communication between Dhaka and Mymensingh, a city in the north of the country.

Prime Minister Hasina has rejected calls for a caretaker government, and instead formed a multi-party interim cabinet last week which is largely composed of her allies. She asked the BNP to join the cabinet but her invitation was bluntly refused by the opposition that has engaged in deadly protests in the last few weeks.

While previous elections have been organised by non-party caretaker governments, Hasina scrapped the arrangement in 2011.

She argued that the system had paved the way for the army to seize power in a country which has witnessed at least 19 coups since 1975.

Source: Agencies