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50 hurt in clashes over Bangladesh blockade

The blockade was called by a 14-party alliance, which said voting couldn't be free and fair under the present election officials.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2006 14:57 IST

At least 50 people were injured in clashes between rival activists on Tuesday as a transport blockade, called to force the ouster of contested election officials, paralysed Bangladesh for a second day.

Demands for the exit of Chief Election Commissioner MA Aziz and his deputies ahead of a January election were bolstered after government advisers negotiating a way out for the poll officials said they could now "see light at the end of the tunnel".

Speculation was rife that Aziz would meet President Iajuddin Ahmed on Tuesday to give his decision -- whether to quit or go abroad on leave.

The blockade was called by a 14-party alliance led by Sheikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League, which says January's vote cannot be free and fair under the current election officials.

Thousands of alliance activists thronged the streets of the capital, Dhaka on Tuesday, dancing and singing.

But followers of Hasina and her arch-rival, Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), fought pitched battles at Dhaka University in which several students were injured, police said.

In Bogra town, 250 km north of Dhaka, police fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse stick-wielding and stone-throwing rival activists.

More than 40 people were injured. At least 100 people were injured, including 12 in gunbattles, in fighting between rival activists when blockade began on Monday.

Two people were killed and hundreds were hurt during a similar four-day stoppage last week.

The blockade continued to paralyse transport, ports, businesses and schools across the impoverished South Asian country of 140 million people, witnesses and officials said.

Hasina alleged that Iajuddin, who also heads a caretaker administration that would oversee the election, had not yet proved his neutrality and was being dictated to by Khaleda.

The alliance accuses Aziz and his deputies of being biased towards Hasina's rivals, particularly Khaleda and her BNP. Khaleda stepped down as prime minister last month at the end of a five-year term.

The BNP has refuted the alliance's charge. It has asked the president not to listen to Hasina and has also demanded the immediate announcement of a timetable for the election.

The president on Monday sent three of his advisers to the election commission to seek a way out of the impasse.

"We see a light at the end of the tunnel and hope a solution is possible within 24 to 48 hours from now," Mahbubul Alam, adviser in charge of the information ministry told a news conference late on Monday.

First Published: Nov 21, 2006 14:57 IST