Deadly political clashes grip Bangladesh capital, Dhaka

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 2:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 10:38am

Police barred Bangladesh's opposition leader from leaving home yesterday to lead a banned march as two people died in battles between her supporters and security forces.

Police fired water cannon and shotguns during clashes across the capital with hundreds of demonstrators, some of them hurling home-made bombs.

Scores of officers blocked Begum Khaleda Zia from leaving her Dhaka home in her car to attend the march, fearing her presence would inflame unrest in the build-up to the January 5 election.

Watch: Deadly clashes erupt at Bangladesh opposition rally

Zia, a two-time former premier, had been scheduled to address supporters converging in Dhaka for the march that she called to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed to quit and halt the poll.

Zia, who is under virtual house arrest, harangued the rows of officers barricading her front gate, as she again urged her supporters to converge in the capital for the so-called "March of Democracy".

"You're supposed to be on the streets. Why are you at my gate? Don't touch me!" Zia told the officers. "This government is illegal. Democracy is dead," she said.

The march is the latest tactic by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies in a campaign to force Hasina to quit and make way for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls.

Police battled with protesters who tried to gather at the opposition's headquarters and the national press club in Dhaka.

In the Rampura neighbourhood, officers fired shotguns at more than 200 bomb-throwing demonstrators.

A security guard at a Dhaka railway station was killed by a small bomb thrown by protesters. One protester also died in hospital.

Ruling party activists armed with sticks and rocks also attacked pro-opposition lawyers and demonstrators outside the country's top court.

Yesterday's rally was seen as the last major attempt by the opposition to derail the election. More than 150 people have died in political violence since the crisis intensified in October.

The conflict pits an opposition alliance led by Zia's opposition BNP against Hasina, who accuses Zia of protecting people being tried or convicted of war crimes involving the 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Many citizens are frustrated by the raging chaos. Businesses have said the conflict is affecting the country's progress in the manufacturing sector, including a burgeoning garment industry that earns more than US$20 billion a year from exports.

Additional reporting by Associated Press