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Dhaka march lays siege to election
2 die as BNP protest begins

A BNP supporter shouts slogans during the protest in Dhaka on Sunday; (above) a lawyer loyal to the Opposition party runs for cover as police use water cannons during a protest inside the Supreme Court complex. (AFP and Reuters)

Dhaka, Dec. 29 (PTI): Two persons were killed today as fresh clashes erupted in Dhaka as Opposition supporters took to the streets to protest against the January 5 general election which they are boycotting.

Around 11,000 policemen patrolled the city as hundreds of demonstrators defied a government ban to take to the streets to stage Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s “march for democracy”.

Authorities have detained over 1,000 Opposition activists trying to gather in the capital after raiding homes of Opposition supporters and trains.

Security forces used water cannons and tear gas shells on BNP activists as they tried to stage protest rallies in front of the Supreme Court complex and the National Press Club in central Dhaka, sparking clashes with supporters of the ruling Awami League.

Paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh troops joined elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion and riot police to cordon off the BNP’s central office in nearby Naya Paltan and the residence of its chief former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia at upmarket Gulshan area.

Witnesses said Opposition activists were seen in front of the office even as the law enforcement agencies did not allow anyone to cross makeshift barbed-wire barricades on streets leading to Naya Paltan, the venue fixed for the rally.

A student of a private university succumbed to his wounds as police intercepted a procession of the BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami at Rampura area, the police and witnesses said.

“The boy was injured as they (activists) hurled a bomb on us, forcing us to retaliate with gunshots,” a police officer said, adding that the student was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was declared brought dead. He was later identified as an activist of the Jamaat’s student wing.

A security guard was killed and another injured as suspected Opposition activists hurled a crude bomb on the platform of Dhaka’s main Kamalapur railway station, railway officials said.

“We arrested two suspects who hurled the bombs, one of which also injured the two,” a railway police officer said.

The Supreme Court complex today appeared a major battlefield pitting pro-Opposition lawyers against the police, who tried to bar them from coming out of the complex using water cannons for hours.

At one stage, supporters of the ruling party entered the Supreme Court premises and chased the protesting lawyers. They also dominated major city thoroughfares chanting slogans against the BNP and the Jamaat.

BNP chief Khaleda stayed confined to her residence despite her plans to address the rally at Naya Paltan as the police and the paramilitary troops threw a seemingly impenetrable ring around her house alongside the central party office.

She said the Opposition’s march would continue tomorrow and, if required, even longer. Khaleda was seen waiving a national flag as she posed for TV cameras inside the complex of her residence.

“Make the rally a success defying any barrier... carry on with the movement until the fall of the government even if I cannot stay beside you,” Khaleda said in a video message on Friday, shortly after Dhaka metropolitan police issued an order declining to grant permission to the Opposition to stage their Dhaka march citing security reasons.

The Awami League leaders had yesterday asked party activists to resist the Opposition “with sticks” if required while law enforcement agencies kept a sharp vigil at Dhaka’s entry points amid the tense face-off.

Naya Paltan bore a deserted look today as vehicular movement was also barred through the area.

The Bangladesh capital earlier came under a virtual siege with overnight halt of bus, train and ferry services linking the capital with rest of the country after the BNP decided to defy the ban on their “march for democracy” escalating tensions afresh amid protracted political violence.

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