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Bangladesh Cracks Down on Crime Amid Claims of Police Abuse

Bangladesh says it will investigate claims by Amnesty International that people have died or been tortured in army or police custody during a national crackdown on crime. Seven people are reported to have died since the government deployed the army 10 days ago to check a rising crime wave. About 2,000 people have been detained. New tribunals are to try cases of serious crime.

Government officials say the massive anti-crime drive, led by the army, is aimed at restoring law and order in the country.

Thousands of troops fanned out last week across the capital Dhaka and other major towns to stem rising crime. The army is conducting country-wide raids against those suspected of having criminal links.

Also this week, the president issued an ordinance to establish six special tribunals to try defendants accused of serious crimes within 125 days of their arrest. Officials say the tribunals will open next month, when parliament is to ratify the ordinance.

The crackdown came after the one-year-old government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia came under intense criticism for failing to halt spiraling violence and crime, including killings, extortions and kidnappings.

Amnesty International's concern about several deaths in army custody came amid allegations of use of excessive force and torture by soldiers during the security operation. The government says it has no report of any death caused by torture, but some detainees have died of cardiac arrest.

It's the first time that the army has been called in to deal with criminals under a democratically elected government.

"Army's deploying is not a good thing for a popular government, or elected government," said Nurul Amin Baepari, a political analyst at the Dhaka University. "But, I think, government has no alternative."

Many of those arrested by the army are activists or leaders of both the opposition and the ruling party. Police say about 10 people are killed everyday by crime syndicates or gangs with suspected links to politicians.

Opposition parties initially welcomed the crackdown on crime, but are now accusing the ruling Bangladesh National Party of using the army to persecute its political rivals.

The government has denied that the army operation is aimed at the opposition.

Mr. Baepari warns the crackdown will only be successful, if both the opposition and the ruling party cut their alleged links with criminal gangs.

"I think, the politicians should not nurture the criminals," he said. "Both the major parties in Bangladesh, the Awami League and BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) is nurturing the criminals."

Many ordinary people hope the anti-crime drive will improve law and order.

International donors and the business community were among those who had called on the government to control rising crime, saying lawlessness was slowing down the country's economic growth. The government says troops will remain on the streets until the situation improves.