Police sent out in force as strike cripples Bangladesh

AFP, DHAKA

Tue, Mar 05, 2013 - Page 6

Schools and businesses were shut yesterday across Bangladesh on the second day of a general strike as huge numbers of police were deployed to put a halt to the deadliest bout of violence since independence.

Sixty-one people are now known to have died in clashes since Thursday, when Islamists erupted in outrage at the sentencing to death of one of their leaders who was convicted of war crimes dating back to the 1971 liberation conflict.

Jamaat-e-Islami Vice President Delwar Hossain Sayedee was the third Islamist to be sentenced by the domestic tribunal.

Although there were no immediate reports of fresh violence yesterday, police confirmed the death of a man in Satkhira District following clashes on Sunday between border guards and Jamaat supporters.

The latest death brought the overall toll to 77 people since the court handed down its first verdict on Jan. 21, making it the bloodiest round of violence since the country broke free from Pakistan more than four decades ago.

The verdicts and the ensuing violence prompted Jamaat to call a two-day nationwide strike that began on Sunday and has virtually crippled the country.

As well as the closure of shops, schools and government offices, the main road between the capital, Dhaka, and the second city, Chittagong, was virtually deserted yesterday, as were other inter-city highways.

The numbers of security personnel have been beefed up throughout the country, particularly in Dhaka, where about 10,000 policemen and members of the elite Rapid Action Battalion were on duty yesterday.

As part of their protests, the Islamists have managed to blockade a highway leading to the popular Cox’s Bazar tourist region, where several hundred holidaymakers have been trapped, including some foreigners.

District police chief Azad Miah said that while more than 3,000 tourists had been able to leave since Thursday, mostly having flown out of the local airport, about 700 remained stranded.

The government has banned rallies and gatherings in at least four towns in the north to quell violence, police said. The war crimes trials of a dozen leaders from Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have opened old wounds and divided the nation, with the opposition accusing the government of staging a witch-hunt.