Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse rallies across Bangladesh yesterday as protesters blocked roads and threw Molotov cocktails, demanding early elections under a neutral caretaker government.
In the capital of Dhaka, police in riot gear attempted to break up rallies in a dozen locations, with demonstrators throwing small handmade bombs, burning tires and setting fire to cars and buses, police said.
Despite the deployment of about 10,000 police to keep highways open, officials said the country’s inter-district road system had ground to a halt due to the rallies.
“We allowed peaceful protests. But once they started attacking cars and buses and throwing [Molotov] cocktail bombs, we used non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them,” deputy police commissioner Imtiaz Ahmed said in Dhaka.
Police clashed with protesters in the cities of Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal and Sylhet, while in the northern town of Palashbari, security forces fired non-lethal shots at hundreds of protesters blocking a key access road, officials said.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) staged the rallies to call for early elections under a caretaker government — a system implemented through a constitutional clause that has been scrapped by the Awami League-led administration.
The past four general elections in Bangladesh were held under the caretaker government system, which would take over for three months at the end of an elected government’s tenure, and oversee the next round of national polls.
The BNP and its 17 smaller allies — which include Islamic parties — have said they will not take part in any future elections unless the caretaker government system is restored.
The online edition of the Daily Star newspaper said at least 60 handmade gasoline bombs exploded in the capital during the clashes.
“Around 50 people were detained for violence,” Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman said, adding that 10 buses and cars had been torched during the protests.