Bangladesh Postpones Government Handover amid Violence

Bangladeshi policemen stand guard behind a barricade in Dhaka

Bangladesh's government has postponed transferring power to a caretaker administration as one person died in clashes between supporters of rival political parties and police.

The latest killing brought the death toll from unrest over demands for political reforms to five as tensions escalated with the end of the five-year mandate of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's coalition government.

The government's term expired at midnight on Friday although it has 15 days to transfer authority to the caretaker body which will hold new parliamentary elections within 90 days.

Police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of supporters of the outgoing government and opposition, after more than 15,000 officers were deployed on the streets of the capital to try to maintain order.

A doctor reported supporters were being brought to his hospital in the capital Dhaka with gun shot wounds, but police would not comment on local media reports that they were using live bullets to disperse the crowds.

Around 100 police officers were injured in the clashes in the centre of the capital with protesters who had defied a ban on gatherings, police said.

"There were injuries on both sides. Police fired tear gas to bring the situation under control," deputy police commissioner Aurangeb Mahbub told AFP on Saturday.

The latest fatality was an unidentified man who died of knife wounds after a clash, said Dhaka medical college hospital doctor Saiful Islam.

"Around 200 people, many with bullet wounds, are being treated in the hospital," said Islam.

Four people died the previous day in battles between supporters of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and opposition.

Traffic was off the streets of the capital and opposition supporters barricaded some main highways linking Dhaka to the rest of the country.

The opposition has vowed to paralyse the country with protests if the government installs former Supreme Court justice K.M. Hasan as the head of the caretaker administration.

The non-partisan administration is meant to ensure no party can rig polls.

But the opposition accuses Hasan, who served as a senior BNP-appointed official in the late 1970s, of being pro-government and says fair polls are impossible with him in the post.

Officials said Hasan was sick and no date was fixed for his swearing-in.

"The date and the timing of the swearing in will be announced later. But it will take time," presidential spokesman Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury told AFP.

The leading Daily Star newspaper quoted a source close to Hasan as saying he had "indicated his reluctance" to take the job.

In addition to objecting to the government's decision to appoint Hasan, the opposition wants the head of the Election Commission and his two deputies replaced, saying they drew up a voters' list with millions of ghost voters.

Officials and television news channels also reported clashes across the rest of the country, although no further details were available.

Zia's BNP has led the four-party Islamist-allied coalition since ousting the opposition Awami League at the last polls in October 2001.

In another development, 13 BNP politicians, including two ministers, have defected to a new Liberal Democratic Party, accusing their old party of fostering Islamic fundamentalism in the mainly Muslim country of 144 million.

It accused the BNP of turning a blind eye to the militants' activities because of the two Islamic parties in its coalition.

Zia admitted last year her administration had underestimated the danger posed by religious extremists who carried out a string of deadly attacks killing at least 28 people.

The bombings were blamed on the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh and its campaign to impose Islamic law in the secular country. Its top leaders have been sentenced to death.

Source: AFP

Other news