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More than 160 arrested in violent Bangladesh strike

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
  • 5 leaders of opposition party among those held
  • Police use tear gas, batons to break up demonstrations
  • Protests also reported from outside Dhaka

(CNN) -- More than 160 protesters were arrested Sunday during a violent opposition strike in Bangladesh, police said.

Among those held were at least five leaders of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Officers said they provoked the strikers to damage public property.

Security forces used tear gas and batons in some areas to break up unruly demonstrations, Police Commissioner A.K.M Shahidul Hoque told CNN by phone from Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. About 18 officers were injured when protesters pelted them with stones, he said.

But Hoque claimed the 12-hour shutdown had little impact on attendance in government offices. In addition, rail, river and air traffic was normal, although private long-route transport mostly stayed off the road, he said.

In Dhaka, between 1,000 and 1,500 activists held demonstrations in small groups, Hoque said. The largest protest in the city numbered about 300 strikers, he added.

Iqbal Khan Chowdhury, additional home secretary for Bangladesh, told CNN that road traffic in the city of Dhaka was relatively less. "Traffic on the road was not like other days," he remarked.

Protests were also reported from some other divisional headquarters of the country outside Dhaka, he said.

The opposition BNP called Sunday's general strike, the first in Bangladesh in over three years, to protest against the governance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The BNP accuses her government of failure in dealing with corruption and of suppressing opposition voices.

BNP leader Fakarul Islam Alamgir alleged security forces were aggressive on Sunday in dealing with demonstrators.

Chowdhury denied the charges, saying police were duty-bound to maintain public order.

In the meantime, the BNP's Alamgir said his party would hold a public meeting Monday in Dhaka as a mark of protest.

Hasina's Awami League party-led alliance swept Bangladesh elections in December 2008 in a landslide. She took the oath of office in January 2009.