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General Strike Paralyzes Bangladesh - 2003-06-12

In Bangladesh, a general strike called by the main opposition party to protest rising crime has paralyzed much of the country.

The eight-hour strike, called by the main opposition party, the Awami League, shut down schools, shops, and businesses in the capital, Dhaka, and other major cities. Most cars, buses, and trucks stayed off the roads.

Hundreds of police were deployed to prevent violence, but sporadic clashes erupted, as opposition activists came out to enforce the strike.

In Dhaka, police used water cannons to disperse Awami League supporters, who were hurling stones at vehicles defying the strike, or trying to break police cordons.

The opposition says it called the strike to draw attention to the government's failure to protect citizens and control crime.

Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil alleges that murders, robberies and gangster violence have made life insecure.

"The demand came from the public, that opposition should move to put pressure on the government, so that government reacts and takes necessary action to stop all the hooliganism in this country," he said.

The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party dismissed the charges. It accused the opposition of calling the strike to disrupt the government's presentation of the budget in Parliament for the next fiscal year [2003-2004].

The Awami League is not attending the budget presentation. It walked out of Parliament during the last session, alleging that the government was not giving it an opportunity to speak on issues such as rising crime. The party says it will continue its boycott "as long as necessary."

Opposition-led strikes and parliamentary boycotts are common in Bangladesh. The Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have both used strikes and violence as political tools against each other. Economists blame the shutdowns for slowing the country's economic growth.