Strike cripples Bangladesh cities

Schools and businesses shut in Dhaka and other key cities, as opposition BNP aims to exploit discontent with government.

    Bangladesh police say the opposition is responsible for the violence in the capital on Sunday [EPA]

    Normal life has ground to a halt in Dhaka and other key cities following a general strike called by Bangladesh's main opposition party against the government's alleged failure to run the country effectively.

    Thousands of riot police were patrolling the streets of the capital and schools and businesses were shut on Monday.

    The nationwide strike, called by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has also disrupted transport services.

    The BNP, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, accuses the government of failing to regulate the country's capital market, which recently suffered a sharp fall, fuelling violence.

    But the government of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, denies the allegations, saying the BNP is trying to destabilise the country.

    Al Jazeera's Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dhaka, said 10,000 police officers were deployed across the country to deal with strikers who "want a total shut-down of the entire country".

    Monday's strike was the third that the BNP has called since it suffered defeat in the December 2008 elections.

    BNP officials and supporters held small protest marches across Dhaka, chanting slogans against the government.

    The party's head office was cordoned off by scores of riot police, who had a water cannon ready to break up protests.

    "The situation here [in Dhaka] is increasingly tense," Haque reported.


    Bangladesh police said that at least eight buses were set on fire on Sunday night, just hours before the strike was enforced.

    A homemade bomb reportedly exploded on the campus of a Dhaka university, injuring two people.

    Five people, including a low-ranking BNP official, were arrested in Dhaka over Sunday night's violence, Masud Ahmed, a Dhaka police spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

    Dhaka police blamed the opposition for Sunday's violence.

    Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of angry investors had also gathered to protest outside the Dhaka Stock Exchange, following the latest in a series of stock exchange collapses.

    The BNP hopes to exploit discontent over higher food prices, with food inflation rising to double digits in recent months, and the crash in stock market.

    The party is also looking to force early parliamentary elections to remove the ruling party from power. But analysts did not expect the strike action to change the date of the 2013 polls.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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