Bangladesh was on edge Monday after two protesters were shot dead and scores injured in clashes between the ruling party and opposition activists — a grim marking of the first anniversary of controversial and violent national polls.
The country has been in a state of political uncertainty since last January, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League came to power for a second consecutive term after a bloody parliamentary election that was boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and deemed as flawed by international observers.
On Monday, despite police warnings, opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia refused to call off rallies planned in Dhaka to mark what the BNP has dubbed "democracy killing day."
Police said at least four people were killed on Monday, and dozens more injured. The opposition said the victims were BNP activists, though police have not confirmed their identity.
BNP officials said hundreds of their supporters have been detained across the country since Saturday, with protests reported in several other towns. Some crude bombs have exploded in Dhaka and other parts of the country, according to reports.
"Security has been ramped up across the country, including Dhaka, to thwart any untoward incidents," said Dhaka district police chief Habibur Rahman.
The normally clogged streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, were nearly empty on Monday afternoon, as authorities cut off bus, rail and ferry services into the city and thousands of riot police were deployed in anticipation of more unrest.
Khaleda, a former prime minister herself, has demanded fresh polls under a neutral administration, calling Hasina's government "undemocratic and illegal."
The opposition leader says she has been confined to her office in Dhaka's diplomatic enclave since Saturday, according to BNP's party officials, with armored vehicles equipped with water cannons parked outside.
"Not only am I prisoner, but thw whole country is being held captive," she said.
Police had locked the main gate of Khaleda's office as she prepared to leave the office, witnesses said. Television footage showed BNP members wiping away tears after they tried to prise open the gates.
The government denied Khaleda was being confined, saying it had deployed extra security forces to ensure the former prime minister's security.
"Khaleda Zia is not confined," Hasina reportedly said at a meeting of her party's student wing on Sunday, according to media. "Who has confined her? She can go to her residence any time."
She also accused his rival of trying to create anarchy across the country. "I am urging the BNP leader to stop these bomb and grenade attacks, threse acts of sabotage, and killings, of arson and damage to property," Hasina said in a speech to the nation.
Hasina and Zia, both related to former national leaders, have nursed a long and bitter rivalry and have dominated politics in Bangladesh for more than two decades.