Towns and cities across Bangladesh were paralyzed yesterday as the opposition launched a three-day general strike to protest a grenade attack on an opposition party rally that killed five people.
Demonstrators took to the streets in the tense capital, Dhaka, and other parts of the country as riot-equipped security forces stood guard.
The strike came as human rights group Amnesty International appealed to the government to fully investigate Thursday's blast at the Awami League rally that killed four party activists and former finance minister Shah A.M.S. Kibria.
The attack occurred just over a week before Dhaka plans to host a summit of South Asian leaders.
The opposition said Friday the Muslim-majority nation was being "held hostage to violent extremism and radicalism" aimed at wrecking its secular foundations.
The government, an Islamist-allied coalition led by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party, dismissed the allegations as "emotional outpourings" and pledged a full probe into the attack.
The dawn-to-dusk strike which ends tomorrow emptied towns and cities of traffic, stranded trains in stations and shut businesses, shops and schools, police and witnesses said. Saturday is a working day in Bangladesh.
Police broke up two rallies in downtown Dhaka and arrested two women after demonstrators attacked security forces, city police chief Mizanur Rahman told reporters. There was no immediate comment from the Awami League.
Some 8,000 riot police were guarding key locations in the teeming capital, Rahman said.
Police also said they arrested five people in the southeastern port city of Chittagong when they tried to stage a demonstration outside Awami League offices.
Strikes are common in Bangladesh where the opposition enforced 22 shutdowns last year, despite pleas from aid donors and business to find other ways to protest, saying such actions drained the nation's impoverished economy.
The strike halted cargo deliveries at Chittagong Port, port officials said.
In its statement, London-based Amnesty also accused the government of failing to investigate similar earlier attacks with "rigor and determination."
The group said "unless such inquiries are conducted thoroughly and impartially, they will lack credibility and the culprits will be sheltered from justice."
The strike brought other parts of the country to a halt, police reported.
"Shops are closed, there are long traffic jams of buses and trucks and sporadic marches but no violence," police chief Abdul Aziz Sarker said in southwestern Khulna.
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