1 dead in Bangladesh opposition shutdown

Opposition supporters clashed with pro-government activists in Bangladesh on Tuesday, leaving one student leader dead amid reports of dozens of bomb explosions and a train derailment blamed on the opposition during a nationwide general strike.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its 17 allies called the strike to demand the release of 154 activists detained this month.

The group enforced a similar shutdown across the South Asian country on Monday, and another general strike is expected in Dhaka, the capital, on Thursday.

Those detained are facing charges of attacking police and creating chaos during an anti-government rally that ended abruptly amid explosions and clashes on March 11.

In Dhaka, opposition activists detonated crude bombs and vandalized vehicles on Tuesday, according to bdnews24.com and Ekattor TV.

Railway official Abul Kalam Azad said a train derailed early Tuesday in northeastern Moulvibazar after suspected opposition activists removed plates from the track. He said 15 passengers were slightly injured, and authorities were forced to suspend railway operations in the region.

A student front leader of the ruling Awami League bled to death after being hit with sharp weapons in fighting with opposition supporters in northern Tangail district, local police chief Monir Hossain said.

In the northwestern district of Rajshahi, activists from Jamaat-e-Islami, a main ally of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, clashed with police. More than 40 homemade bombs exploded, bdnews24.com reported, quoting police officials.

The United News of Bangladesh news agency reported at least 40 opposition activists were arrested in Rajshahi.

Explosions of crude bombs were also reported in parts of Dhaka, where schools and most businesses were closed as thousands of officers patrolled the streets. Traffic was thin.

Bangladesh's rough political world has become increasingly violent in recent months. The opposition alliance is demanding restoration of a caretaker government to oversee elections expected to be held by early next year.

Jamaat-e-Islami also wants to halt the trials of several opposition politicians accused of crimes stemming from the country's 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina initiated the trials in 2010 and three verdicts have been handed down. Ten of the defendants convicted or on trial are from Jamaat-e-Islami, while two others belong to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

The tribunal sentenced a senior Jamaat-e-Islami party leader to death last month, a decision that sparked violent clashes between opposition activists and police that left at least 70 people dead. The opposition says the trials are politically motivated. Authorities deny that.

Zia was expected to attend a meeting with her party's senior policymakers later Tuesday to decide their next protest plans. She recently indicated that she wanted to continue the street protests rather than hold discussions with the government.

The United Nations, the United States, Canada and influential European countries have urged the politicians to resolve their disputes through dialogue.

The government says it is open to talks, but Zia's party says the government wants to use any talks to defuse the opposition movement.

Bangladesh has experienced political unrest since democracy was restored in 1990. Zia and Hasina have alternated as prime ministers since then.

Enforcing shutdowns, which often turn violent, is a common tactic by the opposition to try to embarrass the government.

Enlargephoto

Bangladeshi women walk past a security vehicle during a general strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, and its 17 other allies were enforcing a shutdown to try to secure release of 154 leaders and activists detained this month.(AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)