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Bangladesh clampdown for march

Dhaka, Dec. 28 (PTI): Transport services shut down overnight and paramilitary troops patrolled city streets as Dhaka braced for political violence during the protest march called by the Opposition BNP tomorrow.

Over 700 activists trying to gather in the Bangladesh capital were detained as police raided trains and homes of Opposition supporters.

Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is demanding that the January 5 elections be postponed, has signalled it will defy a government ban on the march.

Hundreds of Bangladeshis returning from India were stranded at the western land port of Benapole, with no buses to carry them home. All Dhaka-bound trains from the northern districts were halted at Tangail in central Bangladesh.

“Fear of sabotage after the recent distasteful experience forced us to take some precautions causing schedule disruptions. Train services between Dhaka and Chittagong, however, are running,” a railway spokesman said.

At least three persons were killed when a train derailed at Gaibandha in northern Bangladesh during an Opposition protest on December 4.

Bus and ferry operators said they had stopped services to and from Dhaka on “security concerns” after a government advisory.

“It seems like Section 144 has been imposed countrywide, an undeclared shutdown by the government itself,” BNP leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said. Law enforcement officials were intimidating people in hotels and restaurants and tracking down protesters from outside Dhaka, he said.

Media reports, however, said activists of the BNP and ally Jamaat-e-Islami had begun moving towards Dhaka last evening, well ahead of the march, to avoid interception by the police. The reports said many planned to reach Dhaka under cover of wedding parties.

Khaleda had exhorted her supporters to defy the ban and “march for democracy”, warning of “tougher actions” if the government obstructs the marchers.

The BNP, which leads an 18-party alliance, is boycotting the polls and has said it will not take part unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina steps down to allow an interim government to be installed. It has been staging protests since late October, which have left at least 130 people dead and the economy crippled.

Hasina has rejected the Opposition’s demands and ruled out rescheduling the polls.

Leaders of her Awami League today warned they would resist the Opposition “with sticks”. “We will not attack first... we will stay organised and when they (Opposition activists) attack, we will resist them through a counter attack,” communications minister Obaidul Quader said at a party meeting.

Army troops have been deployed across Bangladesh to “aid civil administration” in maintaining peace and order ahead of the elections.

In the latest incident of violence, suspected Opposition activists hurled several petrol bombs at the village home of chief election commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad in western Chuadanga before daybreak today. The police said no one was hurt in the attack as the house was vacant.

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