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Bangladesh businesses close for 2nd day of strike

By Julhas Alam

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 23 2012 5:40 a.m. MDT

A Bangladeshi senior leader Rizvi Ahmed sits as police officers stand guard in front of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) office during a nationwide general strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, April 23, 2012. Police opened fire into hundreds of stone-throwing opposition supporters who attacked a police station on Monday, the second day of an opposition-sponsored general strike to protest a politician's disappearance.

Pavel Rahman, Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Police opened fire on hundreds of stone-throwing demonstrators who stormed a police station Monday in northeastern Bangladesh, on the second day of an opposition-sponsored general strike protesting a politician's disappearance. Police said one person was killed and more than 50 others injured.

The death occurred in Sylhet city where the protesters, armed with sticks and stones, clashed with police, stormed into a police station and vandalized several government offices, the area's police chief Shakwat Hossain said.

Hossain provided no further details.

Police said separately they had detained a senior opposition leader and nine other people in Dhaka, the capital, while crude bombs exploded in another district, though no one was injured by them.

Dhaka's private Somoy TV earlier reported that scores of people were injured in Monday's clashes in Sylhet, the home district of Elias Ali, an organizing secretary of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party who has been missing nearly a week.

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

The report said police opened fire after tear gas failed to stop the crowds from attacking Bishnatpur police station in Sylhet, 190 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of Dhaka.

On Monday, the strike shut down schools and businesses in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.

An 18-party alliance led by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party is enforcing the strike to demand that authorities find Ali. The strike began Sunday and was later extended to Monday.

The opposition blames the government and security agencies for Ali's disappearance, but the government denies involvement.

Police said they detained Selima Rahman, a vice president of the main opposition party, and nine others in the Gulshan area as they attempted to lead a demonstration, Dhaka Metropolitan Police official Rafiqul Islam said.

Crude bombs exploded in Dhaka's main commercial district in Motijheel, but no injuries were reported immediately. Police cordoned off the headquarters of the main opposition party with riot cars patrolling the streets in front of it.

Local television stations reported similar disruptions in other cities.

On Sunday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in Sylhet.

Ali and his driver disappeared Tuesday, and residents found their car the next morning, abandoned on the street with its doors open.

The government has accused Ali's party of hiding him in order to create anarchy. Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia heads the party that has staged months of protests to demand a caretaker government oversee upcoming elections.

Human rights groups have reported a number of disappearances of politicians and businessmen in recent years and blamed law enforcement agencies, which have repeatedly denied involvement.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has said Ali's disappearance was not isolated and criticized the government for not properly investigating allegations.

Dhaka-based human rights group Ain-o-Salish Kendra has counted 22 disappearances in the first months of this year, and most of them are politicians who have not been traced. It says 51 people were victims of "enforced disappearances" or "secret killings" in 2011.

Recently, a garment sector trade union leader went missing, and his battered dead body was found days later. New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over his death.

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