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Bangladesh police charge 44 opposition activists

By Julhas Alam
Associated Press / April 30, 2012
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DHAKA, Bangladesh—Police charged 44 opposition activists, including several senior leaders, with alleged involvement in bombings and vandalism during an opposition-sponsored general strike that disrupted life across Bangladesh for a second day Monday.

The strike was called to protest the disappearance of an opposition official, Elias Ali, which his party blames on the government and security agencies. The government denies involvement, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accused the opposition of hiding Ali to create anarchy in the South Asian country.

Junior Home Minister Shamsul Haque Tuku said the opposition must take responsibility for the violence and explosions in the capital, Dhaka, on Sunday. At least a dozen homemade bombs exploded in parts of the city, including two that were thrown at cars belonging to the home affairs minister and the deputy interior minister. Strikers smashed about a dozen vehicles whose drivers were trying to defy the shutdown.

Police filed cases Sunday against 44 opposition activists for alleged involvement in the violence, Dhaka Metropolitan Police official Imam Hossain said.

Those arrested included Rizvi Ahmed, a leader of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and Qamruzzaman Ratan, an opposition leader and friend of Ali.

Police also searched the house of Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a close aide of opposition leader Khaleda Zia and acting secretary general of the party. However, Alamgir was not at home at the time, his wife said.

Separately, security officials also arrested a former deputy minister and two other opposition members who were demonstrating in front of the party headquarters. It was not immediately clear what specific charges would be brought against them.

Police cordoned off the party's headquarters and broke up a number of protest marches in the capital.

Zia's party leads an 18-party opposition alliance that is demanding the return of Ali, who has been missing for nearly two weeks. Last week, the opposition led a three-day strike.

Reports say 22 people, mostly politicians, have disappeared this year. Local and international human rights groups blame security agencies, but authorities deny involvement.

Ali's wife, Tahsina Rushdir, said she wanted to meet Hasina to ask her help in finding her husband.

"My children are facing uncertainty and insecurity. I can't even send them to school. I want my husband back at any cost," she told reporters Monday.

Ali's disappearance has further challenged Bangladesh's fragile parliamentary democracy, marred by a history of military coups since the country's independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Schools and most businesses remained closed in Dhaka and other major cities and towns on Monday, prompting a leading business group to call for other types of anti-government protests.

The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the general strike was hurting the impoverished nation's economy and urged opposition parties to choose different protest methods. It said the strike was affecting the country's international trade because transportation was seriously disrupted and shipments were stuck at ports.

Bangladesh earns about $18 billion a year from exports of garments, mainly to the United States and Europe.

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