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Political Protests Disrupt Bangladesh - 2004-08-24

In Bangladesh, a two-day general strike called by the political opposition has paralyzed much of the country. The strike is the latest protest against a grenade attack on a political rally that killed 20 people and injured more than a hundred.

Businesses, offices and schools shut down as thousands of demonstrators from the opposition Awami League party staged marches across the county shouting anti-government slogans.

Several people were injured in sporadic clashes between police and activists. In the capital, Dhaka, police used tear gas and batons to chase away stone-throwing demonstrators. Most train services were suspended after activists barricaded rail lines.

The country's main port, Chittagong, shut down and protesters blocked the main highway between the two cities.

Awami League supporters have staged violent protests across the country since a grenade attack at a party rally on Saturday being addressed by its leader, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. She escaped unhurt. But the head of the party's women wing, Ivy Rahman, died from wounds she suffered in the attack.

Ms. Hasina's political secretary, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, says the opposition is angry at the government's failure to protect politicians.

"There is also a sense of absolute outrage at the manner in which the attack or the assassination was attempted," he said.

Political tensions in the country have intensified since the attack. The Awami League is demanding that the government step down. The government is asking the opposition to cooperate in the investigation and help reduce violence in the country.

Ataus Samad, editor of the weekly newsmagazine Ekhon says suspicion and acrimony have deepened between the ruling party and the Awami League.

"Government is trying to behave in a manner so that public sentiment does not explode against it, and the opposition at the same time is trying to see that it gets as much sympathy it can," said Mr. Samad.

Saturday's attack on the Awami League rally was the deadliest in a spate of bombings and explosions that have hit the country in the past year.