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Clashes, blasts mark Bangladesh opposition protest

DHAKA (AP) – Several bombs exploded in Bangladesh s capital and police clashed with protesters Tuesday as opposition leaders enforced a daylong, nationwide general strike over what they say is police intimidation.


Witnesses and news reports said several homemade bombs exploded during the beginning of the shutdown. RTV and Bangla Vision stations reported explosions in different areas of Dhaka. It was not clear if there were any injuries.
Small-scale clashes were reported inside and outside Dhaka, and thousands of security officials were deployed in the capital to maintain order.
Nearly 400 members of paramilitary Bangladesh Border Guard were deployed to aid police in Dhaka, said Maj. Gen. Aziz Ahmed, the force s director general.
Schools and most businesses in Dhaka were closed Tuesday. Traffic was thin on the usually clogged streets.
An 18-party opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, was enforcing the strike to protest alleged police intimidation during a rally on Monday.
The party and its allies are demanding restoration of a caretaker government system to oversee upcoming elections. Its ally Jamaat-e-Islami also wants a halt to trials of several opposition politicians accused of crimes stemming from the country s 1971 independence war.
After Monday s rally, police arrested some senior leaders and more than 100 activists of the BNP, headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, during a raid on its party headquarters in Dhaka.


Police said they recovered at least 10 homemade bombs from the headquarters. But the party accused police of putting the bombs inside the headquarters to create a drama.
BNP s acting secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a former mayor of Dhaka City Corp. and a former home minister were among those detained.
On Tuesday afternoon, authorities released three leaders including Alamgir after they had been held for nearly 18 hours.
A Dhaka court jailed about 100 others pending more hearings on their bail petitions, government prosecutor Abdullah Abu said. They were taken to court Tuesday after an overnight stay in a police station. The next bail hearing has been set for March 20.
Zia, in a meeting with senior party leaders, criticized the government for the arrests and later announced a similar nationwide shutdown for March 18 and 19 if the detained senior leaders are not freed immediately.
Alamgir went straight to the party headquarters from police custody and said they would go ahead with the plan for more shutdowns if all the leaders and activists are not freed by Thursday.
Also on Tuesday, police filed two cases accusing more than 150 opposition activists of Monday s explosions and alleging they had obstructed police, said police official Golam Sarwar.
Zia s party and Jamaat-e-Islami have denounced the trials of several opposition politicians accused of mass killings and atrocities during Bangladesh s 1971 independence war against Pakistan, saying they are politically motivated.
The administration of 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, the country s largest Islamic party, while two others belong to the BNP.
One death sentence given to a senior Jamaat-e-Islami party leader last month sparked violent clashes between opposition activists and police, leaving about dozens dead.
Bangladesh says the war left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and forced millions to flee to neighboring India. Jamaat-e-Islami campaigned against the independence of Bangladesh, but denies committing any atrocities.

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