Clashes erupt as Bangladesh paralysed by strike

Opposition stages protests over the eviction of BNP leader Khaleda Zia from her home on Saturday

Police fired rubber bullets and used batons against protestors in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Sunday as a nationwide strike called by the main opposition party brought the country to a standstill.

The clashes erupted as Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists staged protests over the eviction of BNP leader and former two-time premier Khaleda Zia from her home on Saturday, triggering late-night rioting.

Security was tight nationwide, with at least 10,000 heavily armed policemen and 2,000 members of an elite Rapid Action Battalion out in force in the capital for the opposition demonstrations, police spokesman Walid Hossain said.

Police shot rubber bullets and tear gas and used batons to disperse opposition activists who pelted policemen with bricks, damaging vehicles in the largely deserted Dhaka streets, a deputy police commissioner told AFP.

Security forces also barricaded the BNP headquarters in central Dhaka with barbed wire fences, and used coloured water to douse lawyers outside the country's supreme court who were supporting the strike.

"There have been some isolated incidents in the city. But the strike has been largely peaceful," Hossain said, adding more than a dozen people have been arrested for violence.  Private television station NTV said more than 30 people have been arrested across the country as police clashed with BNP supporters in at least half a dozen towns.

Shops, businesses and schools were closed in all the major cities and towns across the country, and police aid road transport in Dhaka and major cities has almost ground to a halt.

Inter-district bus services have also been cut, snapping links between the capital and other cities and towns and stranding millions of people who planned to visit village homes to celebrate Muslim festival of Eid Al Adha.

Opposition activists demonstrated outsidte BNP headquarters and several other sites in the city but there has been no report of violence, Dhaka police chief Benajir Ahmed told AFP.

"The strike has been largely peaceful. We have deployed over 10,000 policemen in the city's strategic places to maintain security," he said, adding some 2,000 members of elite Rapid Action Battalion have also been deployed.

Ahmed said at least 21 people have been arrested on Saturday night after opposition activists rioted in the capital, attacking police and torching and damaging dozens of vehicles.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the supporters who went on the rampage after news spread that Zia has been evicted from Dhaka cantonment house where she has been living for more than three decades.

Officials said Zia left the sprawling house, leased to her by the government after her husband president Ziaur Rahman was murdered in 1981, "willingly" as a court deadline to vacate the home expired Friday.

Zia told reporters Saturday that law enforcement officers entered her bedroom, dragged her out and pushed into a car. She said she was removed illegally as the country's highest court was still hearing an appeal against a lower court eviction order.

Thousands of BNP supporters also clashed with police in dozen plus district towns across the country, police said.

In another incident, two people were killed in a suicide bombing at a ruling party lawmaker's house in western Bangladesh on Saturday. Police would not say whether the blast linked to Zia's eviction. The lawmaker was unhurt.

Cargo movement in the southeastern port city of Chittagong has also come to a halt after the strike cut the city off from rest of the country, its police chief Abul Kashem said. 

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