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Bangla protests turn violent

Dhaka, June 13 (Reuters): Almost 100 people were wounded in Bangladesh today as Opposition activists fought with police at the start of a two-day strike for electoral reforms.

An Opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called the strike to force the government to accept demands for electoral reform ahead of next January’s parliamentary elections.

The demands include the removal of the election commissioner and an Opposition say in the appointment of the caretaker administration which will run the country ahead of the polls.

The clashes occurred in Dhaka, Narayanganj and northern Sirajganj. Police used batons and tear gas to disperse rock-throwing activists, witnesses said.

Police detained more than 150 activists across the country. “We picked them up for resorting to violence and damaging properties,” an officer at the Dhaka police headquarters said. Protesters set fire to seven vehicles, including a police car and three trucks in Dhaka and its suburbs, police said.

More vehicles were damaged in Narayanganj, Sirajganj and Chittagong, witnesses said.

The strikers attacked and damaged two railway stations in northern Bangladesh disrupting movement of trains.

Inter-district buses were off the road, but river ferries operated with fewer than normal passengers, witnesses said. Several domestic and international flights were cancelled or delayed, airport officials said.

The Chittagong port remained mostly idle with no delivery of goods even though some ships were loaded and unloaded, port officials said. Bangladesh’s two stock exchanges in Dhaka and Chittagong were closed.

While the impoverished country remains divided over political issues, the business community said it is fed up with repeated shut downs that badly affect production and exports.

Obaidul Karim, chairman of the Orion Group of industries, said: “During hartals (strikes) we are forced to close our businesses.

“All my factories have been closed as we do not want to take any risk of they being attacked or damaged. On each hartal day, the country suffers industrial losses up to 6 billion taka ($85 million).”

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