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Khaleda thunders, Hasina halts strike

Dhaka, Oct. 30 (Reuters): At least one person was killed and over 100 wounded in fresh political violence in Bangladesh today as the outgoing Prime Minister said she would deal sternly with the Opposition if it continued demands for reforms.

But main Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina announced after meeting President Iajuddin Ahmed, who has assumed additional responsibility as head of a caretaker government, that a three-day blockade of highways and other protests would be called off immediately.

Iajuddin, who has a largely a ceremonial role as President, was sworn in as chief adviser of a caretaker authority yesterday to fill a political vacuum after Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia ended her five-year mandate.

At least 25 people were killed and hundreds wounded in rioting over the weekend after a former supreme court chief justice refused to take on the job as caretaker chief.

A man was killed in a southwestern town and about 120 people were wounded in fresh clashes between rival activists across the country today, raising the toll to 26 over the last four days, police said.

Speaking at a huge rally in the capital, Khaleda said she had had enough of the Opposition’s demands.

“The Opposition will be dealt with a heavy hand if they try to disrupt the elections in the name of demands for electoral reforms,” she said. The President began meeting top political leaders, including Hasina who heads the Awami League party.

Hasina had placed a set of demands before the President on behalf of a 14-party alliance she leads, including reforms at the election commission and pruning of the civil and police administration ahead of the election.

She also demanded closing down of private television and radio channels allowed in the past five years. “We have given the President until November 3 to meet all our demands,” Hasina said. However, she added: “We are calling off the highway blockade and other protests temporarily.”

The Opposition wants the President to remove chief election commissioner M.A. Aziz and his deputies, accusing them of being biased towards the BNP. Today, Opposition activists continued to blockade highways linking Dhaka with the rest of the country. Some vehicles returned on the streets of the capital but most offices and businesses were closed.

Khaleda’s BNP said its supporters would take to the streets now “in full force”.

“We have been pushed to the end of our patience. Now we will act tit-for-tat in case anyone tries to take us on,” Khaleda's elder son and BNP joint secretary-general Tareque Rahman said late yesterday.

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