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Bangladesh Shut Down by Opposition-Led Strike

Life in Bangladesh has been paralyzed by an opposition-led strike - the first held in the past three and a half years. The strike marks a return to the popular political tactic of street protests used in the country prior to 2007.

Police used batons and arrested scores of activists to halt marches by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which called the strike.

Schools, businesses and transport shut down across major towns and cities across Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries. Thousands of police stood guard in the capital Dhaka. Several people were injured in clashes between protesters and those opposing the strike.

The opposition has called the strike to protest what it calls the government's "misrule and failures." The Bangladesh Nationalist Party says the government has failed to check rising food prices or deliver on promises to provide basic services such as water, gas and electricity. BNP leader Khaleda Zia also accuses the government of trying to suppress the opposition, and wants mid-term elections.

But the Awami League, which heads the government, says the strike, called a "hartal" in Bangaldesh, is unwarranted. Abdul Jalil is a senior member of the Awami League.

"All centers of the government is running well as per our estimation," said Jalil. "The allegation or basis on which they have called "hartal" I think is not justified."

Sunday's strike is the first in the country since 2007 when emergency rule was imposed for nearly two years after the country was paralyzed by violent street protests led by both political parties. Elections were held and democracy was restored last year.

At that time there had been widespread hope that political parties would desist from holding strikes that often disrupted life across the country.

But political analysts say the strike marks a return to the old style of confrontational politics in Bangladesh. They say the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party - demoralized by its huge loss in the last general elections - is resorting to the tactic of street protests once again to pressure the government to hold mid-term elections.

The opposition has also been boycotting parliament, another political ploy used in the past by both parties.