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US official urges end to political violence

Call comes amid strikes and opposition arrests

US official urges end to political violence
Strikes have led to widespread damage in Dhaka reporter, Dhaka

December 12, 2012

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A visiting top US official yesterday called on Bangladesh’s two warring political parties to choose dialogue over violence. His staement comes on the same day as the latest in a series of opposition strikes.

Robert O. Blake, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said that the ruling Awami League and Bangladesh National Party (BNP) admitted the continuing political impasse was having a negative impact on the economy and the country’s image.

“If the Awami League and BNP can come to a resolution to hold national polls, the international community will welcome it,” said Blake.

He was speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Bangladesh on the same day that the 18-party opposition led by the BNP held a nationwide strike to protest heavy handed tactics by authorities during another strike on Sunday that left two dead, hundreds injured and 500 people behind bars.

Yesterday’s strike saw protesters hurl firebombs and stones at riot police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as vehicles were vandalized in Dhaka and elsewhere.

Two photojournalists were reportedly beaten and detained by police in the Narayangonj district, near the capital.

On Monday, police arrested the acting secretary general of the BNP, Mirza Fakhrul Islam, for inciting violence. They were then seen sealing off the party headquarters in Dhaka yesterday.

M.K. Anwar, a BNP central committee member, warned the Awami League of further protests if the opposition crackdown continues.

“If our leader is not released by Wednesday [today], we will observe a half day strike on Thursday,” he said.

Strikes and protests have become an almost weekly occurrence in Bangladesh amid a political standoff ahead of elections next year.

The opposition has called for the Awami League to relinquish power in favor of a caretaker government ahead of the polls, amid fears they may be rigged. 

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