Bangladesh police clash with protesters
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Bangladesh police clash with protesters

Riot police dispersed thousands of protesters who smashed vehicles during a general strike to force electoral reforms ahead of polls.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2006 11:56 IST

Riot police dispersed thousands of protesters who smashed vehicles during a general strike held on Thursday to force electoral reforms before next month's elections.

Several people were injured during the violence in two of Dhaka's districts, according to an agency reporter.

Police swung batons when the demonstrators attacked buses for defying the shutdown.

The dawn-to-dusk strike halted most traffic and shut down stores and schools in Dhaka, the capital city of 10 million people.

Similar disruptions have been reported in more than 50 other cities and towns.

More than 7,000 security forces have been ordered onto the streets of the capital, Dhaka, to prevent violence, Dhaka Metropolitan Police said.

Extra police will be deployed in more than 60 other cities and towns.

A 14-party alliance, led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, organised the strike despite efforts by the interim government to defuse a crippling standoff over the polls.

The protest has been supported by the parties of two former presidents, Hossain Mohammad Ershad and Badruddoza Chowdhury.

On Wednesday, the Election Commission announced that candidates would have three more days—until Sunday—to file to participate in the January 22 election.

The alliance rejected the move. "The changes are not enough to create an atmosphere for free and fair elections," said Abdul Jalil, a spokesman for the alliance, which is demanding a delay in the election date.

To meet an alliance demand, the country's interim government said Wednesday it would ask a controversial election official take a leave of absence.

Government spokesman Mahbubul Alam also said the Election Commission would be asked to correct a flawed voter list—another key opposition demand.

Hasina has threatened to oppose the elections unless the alliance's demands are met.

She also has urged President Iajuddin Ahmed to resign as the country's interim leader, claiming he is controlled from behind the scenes by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Zia and Hasina are longtime adversaries, holding power alternatively since democracy was restored in 1991 after 16 years of autocratic rule.

Impoverished Bangladesh has been repeatedly paralysed over the past two months by protests demanding electoral reforms.

Demonstrations and clashes have left more than 30 dead and scores injured.

First Published: Dec 21, 2006 11:56 IST