Bangladesh's military-backed government yesterday declared a public holiday and eased an indefinite curfew in a bid to cool rising tensions after three days of rioting.
The curfew was clamped on six cities, including the capital, before nightfall on Wednesday after one man died and scores were hurt in clashes which spread from Dhaka University to other cities.
Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January when an interim government took power following months of violence and political turmoil over vote-rigging allegations.
The curfew brought Dhaka to a standstill with the capital's normally congested streets all but deserted and cycle rickshaws -- the main means of transport -- restricted to the back roads of residential areas.
Police set up check-points at junctions and army soldiers patrolled the streets. Offices and businesses in the main commercial district remained closed and cars were off the roads.
Thousands of arriving passengers were also left stranded at Dhaka's international airport, a police official said.
With no new reports of protests, the government lifted the curfew -- imposed in Dhaka, northern Rajshahi and Sylhet, and southern Chittagong, Barisal and Khulna -- for three hours yesterday.
"The curfew will be relaxed from 4pm to 7pm in the interests of the people," a spokesman for the government's Press and Information Department said.
The curfew caused major disruption after it was imposed with only a few hours notice.
All colleges and universities in the six cities under curfew have been closed.
Mobile phone services were cut for at least 12 hours. United News of Bangladesh said the government had told operators to shut down their networks.
Nearly 60 people including some journalists were arrested as people rushed home and the streets emptied.
Thirty-five of them, including 12 journalists, were later granted bail and released, while the others, some of whom were reporters, remained in custody, a police official said.
Journalists said they had been beaten by police, troops and security forces despite government assurances that press card carriers would be exempt from the curfew.
Anis Alamgir, of the Boishakhi private television station, said he was left unable to walk after troops beat him with batons.
A photographer working for the daily Dinkal newspaper was hospitalized with serious injuries after being set upon by police, a colleague who witnessed the incident said.
In a televised address late on Wednesday, interim government leader Fakhruddin Ahmed accused "a few evil forces of taking advantage of a trifling incident" -- the manhandling of several students by soldiers at a soccer match on Monday, police said.
TV channels on Wednesday showed protesters armed with sticks and stones rampaging through parts of Dhaka and Chittagong in defiance of the emergency ban on demonstrations.