Police and backers of Bangladesh's ruling party clashed Sunday with opposition party supporters, leaving at least five people dead and scores injured across the country as the opposition tried to launch a three-day nationwide general strike.
Bangladesh, a parliamentary democracy, has been alternately ruled by current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, since 1991. Transferring power peacefully has remained difficult.
The strike is aimed at forcing Hasina to quit and form a caretaker government, made up of people from outside the political parties, to oversee an election due by early next year. The shutdown began Sunday morning and is expected to continue until Tuesday night.
Violence targeted both those affiliated with the opposition and the ruling party.
An activist from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was killed in the southwestern district of Faridpur when security officials opened fire on stone-throwing protesters, local police official Abul Kalam said, adding that at least six people were injured. He said police fired after opposition activists attacked them in the area, which is 40 miles southwest of the capital, Dhaka.
Elsewhere, police officials said two ruling party supporters were killed by opposition activists, including one from the country's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami.
Violence in the northern district of Pabna also left a Jamaat-e-Islami member dead, the Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily reported. The fifth death occurred when two factions of the main opposition party clashed after they brought out separate processions in support of the strike in the northern district of Bogra, Channel 24 TV station reported.
Dozens of opposition activists were arrested across the country, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a senior opposition leader, told reporters in Dhaka.
The dispute centers around who will oversee an election the government has to hold within the next three months. A system of caretaker governments, taking people from outside the parties, has been used for 15 years, but the government scrapped it after the Supreme Court ruled that the system contradicts the constitution.
The opposition, led by Zia, has demanded that the system be restored, and has threatened to boycott the election. The government rejects the demand, and earlier this month proposed forming an all-party government instead.
In a phone conversation Saturday night, Hasina invited Zia to dinner at her official residence on Monday to discuss the issue, and requested a stop to the general strike. Zia refused, but said she would consider the invitation after the strike expires Tuesday.
Television stations said the violence had injured dozens of people across the country since Saturday, with homemade bomb explosions reported in Dhaka and elsewhere. Some of the bombs were thrown at the official homes of two senior justices and the offices of four TV stations and newspapers.
Several vehicles were torched in Dhaka on Sunday, and the Channel 24 TV station said opposition activists attacked a train and set fire to it, injuring at least 20 people in Joypurhat district about 130 miles north of Dhaka.
On Friday, similar violence left at least six people dead across the country.
The Associated Press