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Bangladesh Paralyzed by Another Nationwide Strike


In Bangladesh, at least 20 people have been injured as security forces clashed with demonstrators taking part in the latest nationwide strike called by a prominent political alliance to demand electoral reform. Anjana Pasricha in New Delhi has this report on the political deadlock gripping the country ahead of national elections in January.

Soldiers and riot police fired rubber bullets to disperse thousands of activists of the Awami League and its allies, who marched through the streets of the capital Dhaka on Thursday to enforce a shutdown.

Officials say protesters torched a police car and smashed other vehicles.

The strike caused countrywide disruptions, as activists halted trains, barricaded highways and shut down schools and businesses.

The Awami League's campaign for electoral reform began in October, when the previous government headed by its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, handed power to an interim government.

The caretaker government is supposed to supervise neutral polls, but the Awami League accuses it of bias in favor of the previous government.

An independent political analyst in Dhaka, Ataus Samad, says the interim government may be too weak to resolve the political deadlock and end the demonstrations.

"Now it is a nominated, caretaker government in power, which does not have a very strong foundation," said Samad. "If there are clashes and agitations in the country every day, I don't think this government will be capable of facing that, at least not politically, they can send the police, but they can't mobilize public opinion."

The Awami League and its 14 allies pressed ahead with the latest protest Thursday despite key concessions made by the interim government Wednesday.

The administration agreed to send on leave a top election official accused of bias by the Awami League. It also agreed to update the voters' list as demanded by the alliance and extended the deadline for filing election nominations by three days.

But leaders of the Awami League say the changes do not go far enough to ensure free and fair elections.

The Awami League wants the elections scheduled for January 22 to be postponed, but the Bangladesh Nationalist Party insists they should go ahead as planned.

The country has already witnessed widespread violence in the run-up to the polls. Forty-five people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes. The situation is not new to Bangladesh - shutdowns, strikes and violence have also marred previous polls.

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