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Bangladesh Crippled by Another Opposition-Sponsored Strike

The political opposition has staged a national strike paralyzing Bangladesh, Thursday. The Awami League and its opposition alliance are pressing for new elections.

Schools and businesses shut down in the capital and most major cities Thursday. Public transportation was disrupted and thousands of police and paramilitary troops were deployed to patrol key areas.

The shutdown came in response to calls by the 14-party opposition alliance led by the Awami League to pressure Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's four-year-old government to resign.

Small groups of activists marched through the streets in Dhaka shouting anti-government slogans. Several were injured in scuffles with police when they tried to break security barriers.

This is the second major anti-government protest this week and the 17th opposition-sponsored strike this year.

The Awami League's general secretary, Abdul Jalil, says the strikes are proof that people want the government to quit.

"They have shown their no-confidence against the government," he said. "Our demand is that the government must resign and pave the way for a free and fair election…they will be compelled to surrender to the demand of the people."

The opposition accuses the government of corruption, authoritarianism and incompetence - particularly in cracking down on hard-line Islamists demanding religious laws in the Muslim-majority country.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has rejected the allegations. She addressed a public rally on Wednesday, saying her government will complete its five-year term and she called on the opposition to end its nearly three-year-old boycott of parliament.

The two main parties of Bangladesh - the opposition Awami League and the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party - have a history of bitter confrontation. Both have used disruptive strikes and parliamentary boycotts as political tools despite repeated pleas from businessmen that the strikes cost the impoverished country tens of millions of dollars in lost production.