06/12/2006, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Opposition "besieges" Dhaka, more than 500 people hurt

Opposition parties take to the streets demanding new electoral law and expulsion of Islamic fundamentalists from government, threatening to boycott upcoming elections. Prime Minister orders preventive arrests and deploys 18,000 policemen and paramilitary forces.

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Bangladesh's opposition announced that it would carry out a general strike this week and boycott the upcoming elections if the government does not reform the existing electoral law. The warning comes a day after an anti-government demonstration in Dhaka led by the Awami League (AL) degenerated into the worst clashes with police in the last few months.

The "siege of Dhaka" by the 14-party anti-government coalition brought the capital to a standstill. For eight hours police fired gunshots and tear gas in an attempt to disperse stone throwing demonstrators, leaving over 500 injured including senior opposition leaders, journalists and policemen.

Opposition politicians and workers have called on the government to resign if does not meet their demands for electoral reforms to ensure that national elections due in early 2007 are "honest".

Demonstrators put up barricades at main entry points to the capital from all directions. Dhaka's rail communications with different districts were disrupted. Most of the schools, and many private offices and shopping malls were closed Sunday.

Clashes also occurred at Kanchpur in Narayanganj, Tongi, Savar and Gazipur on the city outskirts.

Embattled Prime Minister Khaleda Zia ordered the deployment of more than 18,000 policemen and paramilitary border guards and the detention of about 4,000 suspected opposition activists.

The opposition are also urging Zia's ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to expel the fundamentalist Jamaat-i Islami from the coalition .

Conflict between Bangladesh's two most influential political leaders, Zia and Hasina, are a constant threat to the country's stability.

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