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Police, Protesters Clash During Nationwide Strike in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, dozens of protesters have been injured in clashes with police during an opposition-sponsored nationwide strike. The strike was part of the opposition campaign for important changes in the supervision of general elections next January.

Thousands of opposition activists marched through the streets of the capital Dhaka Thursday, undeterred by a continuous rain.

The march was in conjunction with a one-day strike, called by an alliance of 14 opposition parties. Shops, schools and offices shut down in Dhaka and other cities. The marchers threw stones at vehicles that ventured out on the roads in defiance of the strike, and clashed with riot police.

The political activity is aimed at parliamentary elections scheduled for January. The opposition parties are demanding the removal of the chief election commissioner and his deputies before the elections are held, alleging that the commissioners are biased in favor of the ruling alliance. The government has rejected the demand.

The opposition also wants a say in the selection of the next caretaker administration, which will take charge of the country going into the elections, and supervise the voting.

Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the main opposition party, the Awami League, is confident the campaign will succeed.

"This type of government, initially they do not respond, but ultimately, when the movement gets its total form, the government succumbs to the demand, and we hope under the pressure of this movement, the government will certainly come forward for negotiation," said Jalil.

This was the third political demonstration in Bangladesh this week. On Monday, opposition activists staged a massive rally in Dhaka, and on Wednesday, they disrupted rail, road and river traffic across the country.

Political analysts say the country is likely to witness turbulent times in the coming months because - despite Mr. Jalil's comments - there appears to be little sign of flexibility on either side.

The opposition insists it will not allow the elections to take place until its demands are met, and has even threatened to boycott the polls. But so far Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has paid little heed to the demonstrations. She accuses the opposition of trying to disrupt the electoral process because it fears losing.

The country's two main parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, have a history of bitter relations.