Bangladeshi police fired tear gas and a water cannon at protestors yesterday as a nationwide strike over a hike in fuel prices brought large parts of the country to a halt.
A coalition of left-wing parties, including the Communist Party of Bangladesh, called the strike to protest a recent increase in diesel, kerosene and gasoline prices, saying it was due to pressure from the IMF.
Most schools, shops and private businesses were closed in the capital, and the streets deserted, affecting deliveries from ports.
Police fired tear gas at activists near the party’s headquarters in Dhaka after they tried to barricade a road and smash cars, local police chief Golam Sarwar told reporters.
Sarwar said that no one had been reported injured, but the online edition of the Daily Star said several people were hurt.
Police also sprayed colored water from a cannon on protesters at a road crossing, said a foreign journalist who was at the scene.
The strike was the eighth to hit the impoverished and politically volatile country in the past six weeks.
The main opposition parties also held a strike on Jan. 4 to protest the latest fuel price hike. They also staged strikes last month demanding polls under a neutral technocratic caretaker administration.
Dhaka on Jan. 3 raised fuel prices by up to 11 percent, saying that the spike was needed to cut the country’s growing energy subsidy bill.
The Bangladeshi government said that the hike would save more than US$300 million.
Left-wing parties said the increase was one of the strings attached by the IMF to secure a tranche of a US$1 billion soft loan it agreed to give in April last year.
Meanwhile, Russia on Tuesday granted Bangladesh a US$1 billion loan for arms purchases and US$500 million to help the nation build its first nuclear power plant, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
The deal was inked at the Kremlin after Putin metwith Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Putin did not specify what weapons or military equipment Bangladesh would buy from Russia.
Citing an unnamed source, Russian financial daily Vedomosti on Tuesday reported that Bangladesh planned to buy weapons and armored vehicles for ground forces as well as surface-to-air missile systems and Mi-17 transport helicopters.
Bangladesh’s demand for fuel is growing sharply as a shortfall of natural gas has forced it to turn to costly oil-fired power plants to resolve crippling electricity shortages.
Moscow signed a deal to cooperate with Dhaka in peaceful nuclear power generation in 2010 and to help build a nuclear plant in Ruppur.