June 11, 2006

Protesters try to blockade Dhaka, battle police

By Anis Ahmed

DHAKA (Reuters) - At least 200 people were hurt in street
clashes between police and opposition activists trying to
blockade Bangladesh's capital Dhaka on Sunday, witnesses said.

Rock-throwing protesters fought riot police at Kanchpur on
the outskirts of Dhaka, where at least 70 people were hurt,
including former army chief general K.M. Shafiullah, an
opposition supporter.

Police, who used tear gas and baton charges, detained
nearly 50 people at Kanchpur, which is on the main
Dhaka-Chittagong highway.

As the battle raged, hundreds of people from nearby
villages, brandishing sticks, joined the protesters, forcing
police to make a temporary retreat.

The protesters burned several vehicles, including a police
car. Several policemen were hurt by flying rocks, witnesses,

Street battles also erupted at three places in Dhaka and
two areas just outside the capital. In all over 200 people,
including at least 20 policemen, were hurt, and several
vehicles damaged, witnesses said.

Leaders of the opposition Awami League had urged followers
to gather at city entry points on Sunday to lay siege to the

The opposition wants the caretaker administration that will
be appointed to organize January's election to be led by a
figure acceptable to all political groups, and the armed forces
placed under the caretaker leader's control during the polls.

Police patrolled Dhaka overnight with loudspeakers
declaring the High Court had banned the blockade and anyone
participating could be prosecuted.

Authorities deployed more than 30,000 riot police and
paramilitary troops in the capital on Sunday, home ministry
officials said.

Awami general secretary Abdul Jalil said the opposition
would call for an indefinite strike if the government tried to
break the blockade.

"I am warning the authorities against trying to stop us by
using force. The siege is our democratic right and we are going
to implement it," Jalil said.

Sporadic violence was also reported from Tongi industrial
area, on the city's northern fringe, where nearly 40 protesters
were injured and many detained by police, witnesses said.

The city's inter-district bus terminals were almost
deserted. Ferries and trains moved in the early hours of
Sunday, but with very few passengers.

Nearly 5,000 opposition activists and suspected criminals
were detained by police in the run up to Sunday's protest, but
the main leaders were spared in the swoop.

(Additional reporting by Nizam Ahmed)