Bangladesh paralysed by opposition strike
Thousands of riot police patrolled the streets of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Monday as a nationwide strike called by the main opposition party paralysed much of the country.
At least eight buses were set on fire overnight, police said, just hours before the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) enforced the strike to protest against controversial plans for a new airport and rocketing food prices.
All shops, businesses and schools were shut and major roads in and around the capital were deserted.
"At least 8,500 police have been deployed in Dhaka. Security is tight and there are no reports of violence from anywhere," the deputy commissioner of Dhaka police, Habibur Rahman, told AFP.
The strike was the third that the BNP has called since it suffered a crushing defeat in December 2008 elections.
The government had planned to construct an airport on a flood plain in Srinagar, just south of Dhaka, but backed off in the face of violent demonstrations by at least 20,000 villagers late last month.
A policeman was beaten to death during the protest.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who wants to name the airport after her father, the country's founding leader, said it would now be constructed at a different site.
The BNP has criticised the plan as a waste of taxpayers' money and said the country's three existing international airports can meet rising demand for air traffic for years to come.
The party is also keen to exploit discontent over higher food prices, with food inflation hitting double-digit rates in recent months following poor rice yields in two consecutive harvests.
BNP officials and supporters held small protest marches across Dhaka, chanting slogans against the government. The party's head office was cordoned off by scores of riot police, who had a water cannon ready to break up protests.
Five people, including a low-ranking BNP official, were arrested in Dhaka over violence on Sunday night, Dhaka police spokesman Masud Ahmed told AFP.
At least 600 policemen were deployed in the southeastern port city of Chittagong, city special branch police chief Meshbahuddin Ahmed said.
Cargo operations at the port, which handles 90 percent of Bangladesh's 40 billion dollars of foreign trade, ground to a halt as it was cut off from the rest of the country by the strike.
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