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Anti-PM protest broken up with tear gas, rubber bullets

DHAKA (AFP) – Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at huge crowds of Bangladesh opposition supporters yesterday to break up a giant protest against the prime minister, with one officer killed and scores of people injured in several hours of violent clashes in central Dhaka.

More than 100,000 supporters of two major Bangladesh opposition parties rallied to demand Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down to allow a free and fair vote under a neutral government. Live footage on the verified Facebook page of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) showed thousands of people running for safety as sound grenades went off one after another and plumes of black smoke rose from the roads.

AFP correspondents said the violence spread in roads and alleys in the centre of the capital as police fired tear gas and rubber shotgun rounds, while the protesters threw stones and bricks. One officer was killed and more than 100 injured, said Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruk Hossain, telling AFP: “The constable was hacked in the head by opposition activists.”

The protests by the BNP and influential party Jamaat-e-Islami were the biggest so far this year, AFP journalists on site said, and marked a new phase in their protests with a general election due within three months.

Hasina – daughter of the country’s founding leader – has been in power for 15 years and has overseen rapid economic growth with Bangladesh overtaking neighbouring India in gross domestic product per capita, but inflation has risen and her government is accused of corruption and human rights abuses.

At least 20 people were rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the country’s largest, with wounds from rubber bullets, police inspector Bacchu Mia told AFP.

The clashes began in front of the city’s largest church when rowdy opposition supporters fought with sticks and allegedly torched a bus and a police post. The BNP called for a nationwide strike today to protest the violence.

“Police and armed ruling party cadres attacked our peaceful rally,” party spokesman Zahir Uddin Swapan told AFP.

Activists attack security officers during a protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh. PHOTO: AP