Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Bangladeshi opposition warns strike could resume if demands are not met

AP , DHAKA

Bangladesh's opposition alliance temporarily suspended a nationwide strike that had paralyzed the country for four days and left at least two people dead in street clashes, but warned the action would resume if their demands were not met.

The alliance of 14 political parties began the indefinite, nationwide strike and blockade on Sunday in an effort to force the removal of election officials, who they say are biased toward former prime minister Khaleda Zia's ruling coalition, ahead of January elections.

Late on Wednesday, Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina, who was the main opposition leader during Zia's tenure, announced the suspension of the protests from yesterday, but said they would resume on Monday unless the alliance's demands were met.

Tens of thousands of alliance supporters had blocked main roads and rail lines across the country since Sunday, practically shutting down Bangladesh's sea ports, isolating the capital and leading to street clashes with Zia's supporters and police that left at least two dead.

Business leaders welcomed the suspension of the strike, which they said was inching the impoverished country's economy toward the brink of collapse.

"We definitely appreciate the decision. It's good for the country and the economy," Mir Nasir Hossain, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said on Wednesday.

S.M. Fazlul Haque, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said the blockade had created "deplorable conditions" in the garment sector, the country's main export commodity.

A delegation of business leaders on Tuesday met the country's interim leader President Iajuddin Ahmed and Hasina, urging them to take steps to bring an end to the political impasse.

Advisers to a caretaker government tasked to oversee elections also held talks on Monday and Tuesday with major political parties to try to end the standoff.

They planned to hold further talks to attempt to reach a consensus, interim government spokesman Akbar Ali Khan said.

Most stores and schools remained closed on Wednesday, and with public transport off the roads, commuters used pedal rickshaws or three-wheel taxis to get to work.

About 15,000 security forces were deployed in Dhaka to maintain peace.

The opposition is demanding the removal of four top Election Commission officials, accusing them of bias toward the government of Zia, who completed her five-year term as prime minister on Oct. 29. The commissioners deny the allegation and have refused to resign.

Bangladesh has a history of political violence. The South Asian nation has witnessed two presidents slain in military coups and 19 other failed coup attempts since it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.

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