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Bangladesh blast mars election run-up

Shamim Osman injured
Home Minister Mohammad Nasim comforts injured lawmaker Shamim Osman  

NARAYANGANJ, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Twenty-two people were killed and more than 100 injured Saturday evening when a bomb blast ripped through the local offices of the country's ruling Awami League in Narayanganj.

Prominent legislator Shamim Osman, who was making a speech before party members when the explosion took place, was among the injured.

Local newspapers said the dead included several local leaders of the party, Reuters reported.

The violence came as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina prepares to step down from office after her five-year term ends on July 13, with elections under a caretaker authority due by October.

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Witnesses said the floors and walls of the building were splashed with blood and severed limbs littered the scene of the blast in Narayanganj, about 25 miles from the capital, Dhaka.

"Many of the injured had their hands and legs blown off it was a terrible scene," a police officer said.

While many of the injured were admitted to hospitals in Narayanganj, several others, including Osman, were driven to civil and military hospitals in Dhaka.

"The bomb exploded with a big bang, shaking nearby buildings and sending people preparing to go to bed or sleeping screaming and rushing out of homes," one Narayanganj resident told Reuters.

Witnesses also said a brief exchange of gunfire followed Saturday night's blast. Police declined to comment.

"Apparently some people were trying to shoot Shamim Osman while he was being transferred to hospital. His supporters returned the fire," one witness said.

Home Minister Mohammad Nasim, who visited the blast site, said "the culprits must be found and punished."

Pre-election violence

Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina's Awami League accuses opposition parties of using armed gangsters to disrupt law and order and kill people in a bid to destabilize the country in the run-up to the polls.

Blast scene
The late-night blast rocked nearby buildings and sent occupants in a panic  

However, police have not yet established clear links to any suspects, even as they arrested one man identified only by the name Liton.

Police said 15 people died on the spot while almost 40 were critically injured.

The explosion came within two weeks after at least 10 people died in a blast at a Roman Catholic church at Banaripara in Hasina's home district, Gopalganj, in the country's south.

Political rivalries in this poor South Asian nation are intense and often erupt in violence ahead of elections.

Bomb blasts are a regular occurrence in Bangladesh and have killed at least 60 people in the past two years in 10 separate attacks, according to police records.

Security measures

Parliament is considering a special security law to beef up protection for the prime minister because of threats against her life.

Opposition parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, have asked the police and Election Commission to seize illegal weapons from "political and professional" militants ahead of the election.

Khaleda heads a four-party opposition alliance which includes the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party and the radical Islami Oikyo Jote.

Meanwhile, police said they have confirmed the involvement of Islamic militants in an April 14 bomb blast at a Bengali New Year concert in Dhaka, which killed seven people and wounded many.

On Friday, police seized two live bombs in the southern port city of Chittagong where the country's leading cultural group -- Udichi -- was to hold a meeting.

At least 10 people were killed by a bomb early in 2000 at an Udichi rally in the western district of Jessore.

Reuters contributed to this report.

• Bangladesh Prime Minister's office

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