Bangladesh investors, police clash over sliding stocks

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DHAKA – Hundreds of Bangladeshi small investors, angry at a new plunge in share prices, set fire to tyres and pelted police with bricks on Sunday outside the stock exchange and demanded the resignation of the finance minister.
Police with batons dispersed the protesters in pitched battles that snarled traffic for hours. The country’s main Dhaka Stock Exchange General Index dived by more than 474.77 points or 7.27 percent to 6052.41 on Sunday, the steepest one-day fall since January 20. “Who is to blame for the continuing fall of share prices? Why haven’t they been found and punished?” shouted Shafiqur Rahman, a small investor.
Demonstrators called for the resignation of Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith. “He assured us that the market will see an uptrend this week,” said investor Rakibul Haq. “It makes me so frustrated and angry that this has not happened. “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last week asked the relevant authorities to take immediate steps to stabilise markets, with about 3.3 million people, mostly small-time investors new to stock trading, relying on it to supplement meagre incomes. Share prices nearly doubled in 2010, encouraging new investors into the market.
But banks and other financial institutions, some of which had invested 75 percent of their deposits in the stock market in the past, are now holding back on further investments, prompting fears among individual investors. Clashes between distraught investors and police have become regular occurrences in recent weeks. The steepest fall in the index — 660 points — took place on January 10.
Mirza Azizul Islam, a former finance adviser to the government, said on Sunday: “The market needs long-term investment to overcome its volatility while small investors should refrain from panic buying or selling.” Hasina and her rival Begum Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister and contender in parliamentary elections due by the end of 2013, accuse each other of prompting the price declines.
“They (Khaleda and her allies) are fuelling the unrest in the stock market, trying to cause greater anarchy and make gains out of it,” Hasina told parliament last week. Khaleda said at the weekend that the slide in the bourses was further proof that the government was incapable of managing anything.