Bangladesh BNP-led strike marred by deaths

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Media caption,

The BBC's Mahfuz Sadique says Bangladeshis fear further violence

At least three people have died in clashes on the first day of a three-day opposition strike in Bangladesh, aimed at forcing the government to quit.

Protesters clashed with police in some areas, and with government supporters in other areas.

The opposition says Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must install a neutral caretaker administration to oversee the general election, due in January.

But she disagrees and wants a coalition involving all parties.

Reporters of violence first emerged from Faridpur district, about 130km (80 miles) west of the capital, Dhaka.

The police said they were forced to open fire because protesters pelted them with stones and blocked a main road.

Activists said a 22-year-old opposition supporter was shot dead by police.

And in the western town of Ishwardia, a 28-year-old opposition activist was killed in clashes with government supporters.

Further south in Jessore a government activist was reportedly hacked to death by a crowd of protesters.

Rare phone call

The strike began at 06:00 (00:00 GMT), with the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islam hoping to bring the country to a standstill.

They want to force the prime minister to allow a neutral caretaker administration to oversee the election process.

But Ms Hasina, who heads the Awami League, has rejected such a plan saying there is no scope for unelected people to supervise the vote.

BNP leader Khaleda Zia announced that the national shutdown would be going ahead from Sunday, despite a rare phone call with Ms Hasina in which the the prime minister asked her to call off the strike.

It is thought to be the first time the bitter rivals have spoken directly for a decade.

The BNP and its allies are refusing to participate in elections under current constitutional provisions, which do not allow for a neutral, caretaker government, or require the incumbent prime minister to step down during the interim period.

The opposition fears the government will rig the polls if it remains in power.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Bangladeshi opposition supporters gathered for a rally in Dhaka on Friday

Sabir Mustafa of the BBC's Bengali Service says there is great deal of concern among the public about what might happen in the days ahead, especially if the opposition and government supporters come face-to-face in the street.

On Friday, at least six people were killed as security officials opened fire on opposition supporters trying to defy a ban on protests.

A series of rulings against Jamaat have led to violent protests across Bangladesh, with more than 150 people killed in clashes with police since the beginning of this year.