Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Strike brings disruption to Bangladesh's capital


A general strike called to protest rising prices and alleged government harassment of political rivals yesterday shut down schools and shops and disrupted public transport across Bangladesh cities and towns.

Police used batons to disperse dozens of supporters of the strike who tried to march through downtown Dhaka, where nearly 5,000 police and paramilitary soldiers were deployed. At least 10 people were injured, witnesses said.

"Any kind of vandalism or intimidation will be dealt with seriously," Dhaka's police chief Abdul Quayyum said earlier yesterday.

The strike, sponsored by the main opposition Awami League party, affected Dhaka, the capital of 10 million people, and dozens of other major cities and towns, police officials said.

In Dhaka, schools, shops and private offices did not open. However, government offices opened and authorities asked employees to report to work.

The protest had a mixed effect on public transportation. While private cars stayed off the roads, many buses and tricycle rickshaws operated in Dhaka. Planes, trains and river ferries were not disrupted, government authorities said.

Such protests, which sometimes turn violent, are a common opposition tactic in Bangladesh.

Nearly 60 lawmakers from the Awami League, led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, have boycotted Parliament since Thursday, accusing Speaker Jamiruddin Sirkar of switching off their microphones whenever they tried to speak.

Opposition legislators said they wanted to criticize the government over issues such as rising prices and political murders.

"The government is attacking the opposition. The prices of food and other essential items are rising," Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil said. "We are living in a terrible situation."

Inflation is running at 5.9 percent this year, up 1.5 percentage points from last year, an Asian Development Bank report said last month.

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