Three people have been killed in fresh unrest across Bangladesh as a three-day countrywide strike called by the main opposition party got underway.
Sunday’s attacks come in the wake of violence earlier this week between police and opposition supporters in the capital, Dhaka, which left at least six people dead.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, wants Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the prime minister, to hand power to a caretaker administration before the January election.
Hasina and Khaleda held talks on Saturday over the phone but Khaleda spurned Hasina’s appeal to call off the three-day general strike.
Zia has demanded that Hasina quit to make way for a caretaker government that will supervise parliamentary polls due in January 2014.
The 40-minute phone conversation – part of which was aired by television stations – was believed to be the first time in at least a decade that Hasina and Zia, who has served twice as prime minister, have spoken, observers say.
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During the conversation, Hasina also invited Zia to dinner apprently seeking to calm tensions after supporters of BNP and its Islamist allies clashed with ruling party supporters and police.
“I am inviting you to the prime minister’s residence on October 28,” Hasina said to Zia by telephone, appealing for Zia to withdraw her strike call.
There was no immediate comment from Hasina’s office on Zia’s decision to go ahead with the strike or whether it would affect the prime minister’s dinner invitation to her rival.
Bangladesh’s politics have been held hostage for two decades by bitter rivalry between Hasina and Zia, who are known as the “battling begums”.
On Friday, paramilitaries and police fired at thousands of opposition supporters after they hit the streets, defying a government ban on rallies.
Police said opposition supporters attacked them with small bombs, firearms and sticks, prompting them to open fire.
Zia, who addressed a rally of more than 100,000 supporters on Friday, had branded the government “illegal” as of that day, citing a legal provision that required a neutral caretaker government to be set up three months before elections.
But Hasina’s ruling Awami League abolished the provision in 2011, handing the job of overseeing polls to an overhauled Election Commission.
Hasina argues the caretaker administration system enables the army to seize power in a country which has seen at least 19 coups since 1975.
She has rejected Zia’s demand for her to step down, calling it unconstitutional.