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Dhaka pledges 'zero tolerance' after clashes

The police chief vowed there would be "zero tolerance" of violence following a political crisis in the country.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 14:14 IST

Bangladesh's national police chief vowed on Monday there would be "zero tolerance" of violence following a political crisis that sparked deadly clashes between rival political parties.

His comments came as the country braced for further bloodshed after the opposition called nationwide protests and blockades over President Iajuddin Ahmed's decision to name himself head of a caretaker government that will oversee elections in January.

At least 15,000 police were on the streets of the capital Dhaka and thousands more were deployed nationwide after three days of protests led by the leftist main opposition Awami League that left at least 21 people dead.

"There will be zero tolerance of further violence. Anyone who tries to disrupt law and order will be punished," Inspector General of Bangladesh Police Anwarul Iqbal told the agency.

"We have now enough police and paramilitaries all over the country and the situation has improved markedly.

Blockades on roads have been taken down and inter-city buses are running again," he added.

In the capital Dhaka, private cars and buses were off the roads although offices and shops remained open and no fresh clashes were reported, police said.

"Awami League activists will hold rallies later but there is no report of any violence," said Dhaka police commissioner Mizanur Rahman.

The political crisis came to a head after the five-year mandate of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Islamist-allied government ran out on Friday.

Her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) failed to strike a deal on who should head the interim administration with the main opposition Awami League, which has threatened to boycott the elections.

The Awami League and its 13 allies had rejected as politically biased the government's choice of former Supreme Court justice KM Hasan to head the non-party caretaker body.

The authority is tasked with ensuring free and fair elections and aims to prevent outgoing parties from rigging polls.

Talks to find a compromise candidate broke down Sunday and President Iajuddin Ahmed said he had no alternative but to appoint himself to the body.

After being sworn in, the president appealed for calm. The opposition responded by calling mass protests and blockades for Monday but stepped back from rejecting the decision outright.

A senior military source told the agency that the army had been put on stand-by in case of further bloodshed, following deadly clashes between rival parties.

"The armed forces are on high alert. They will be on the streets the moment they are asked to keep law and order," the source said.

The president's intervention came after violence hit central Dhaka, with running battles between opposition supporters and police, and between members of the rival parties, breaking out all over the country.

One more person died late Sunday taking the death toll to 21.

Police in the southern Satkhira district said a local leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, the outgoing government's biggest coalition partner, was hacked to death by Awami League supporters.

Sunday's oath-taking ceremony was boycotted by the Awami League, which called on the new caretaker chief to meet its outstanding demands.

"We have neither accepted him (the president) nor rejected him as the chief of the caretaker government," Amir Hossain Amu, a senior Awami League leader, said.

In addition to opposing Hasan, the opposition also wants the Election Commissioner and his two deputies replaced.

The president "should now replace all the top officials of the election commission, who we think are biased," Amu said.

"He also should prepare a new voters' list because we think the older one has more than 10 million fake voters," he added.

First Published: Oct 30, 2006 14:14 IST