Nearly 10,000 security forces fanned out across the Bangladeshi capital yesterday during an opposition-sponsored general strike that shut down schools and stores and disrupted traffic.
The country's main opposition party, the Awami League, called for the half-day strike yesterday, demanding that a national holiday be held on the anniversary of the death of its founding member and Bangladesh's first leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Around 10,000 personnel from the police, paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles and specialist Rapid Action Battalion were to be posted around Dhaka -- the capital city of 10 million people -- to maintain order during the strike, the Home Ministry said in a statement.
Security forces manned barbed-wire barricades to prevent dozens of protesters from marching through the streets. No clashes were immediately reported.
In Dhaka, commuters relied on tricycle rickshaws -- the only form of public transport that the strike organizers allowed to operate.
Private offices, schools and stores were closed, but government offices remained open. During such strikes most residents stay home to avoid being caught between police and strike supporters who often lock in clashes.
Disruption in normal life was reported in more than 60 other cities and towns around the country, the United News of Bangladesh news agency reported.
Rahman, who led Bangladesh to independence from Pakistan in 1971, was killed in a military coup on Aug. 15, 1975. In his later years, critics saw Rahman as an authoritarian ruler.
The anniversary of Rahman's death was observed as a "national mourning day" -- with a public holiday and official ceremonies -- when his daughter, Sheikh Hasina, was serving as the country's prime minister from 1996 to 2001.
But when Hasina's rival, Khaleda Zia, came to power in 2001, the new government canceled the holiday. And every year since then, Hasina's party has been staging a strike on the day.
The Awami League also wants the immediate execution of 12 former army officers, who were convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for slaying Rahman and 15 other family members.
Four of those convicted, now imprisoned in Dhaka Central Jail, are appealing their sentences. Seven other convicts are fugitives abroad, while one has died.