Bangladesh opposition holds mass rally in Dhaka


Thousands of Bangladeshi troops patrolled the streets of Dhaka on Monday as opposition parties prepared for a mass protest calling for the government to step down and hold elections.
Schools and shops were closed and roads in the capital were empty ahead of the rally, which has been planned for months by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies.
Media reports said thousands of opposition activists were detained ahead of the event, but police denied any organised crackdown.
“These are regular arrests nothing to do with the opposition grand rally,” deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Monirul Islam told AFP.
Islam said at least 15,000 policemen and border guards were deployed in Dhaka to prevent violence.
Bus and ferry services to the city were also suspended, making it hard for opposition supporters to travel from rural areas.
BNP spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told AFP that at least 3,000 people had been detained nationwide over the last four days.
“Police have been holding our officials and supporters en masse,” Alamgir said. The Prothom Alo newspaper said more than 2,800 had been held since Wednesday.
Opposition anger has been growing since the government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, last year scrapped a neutral caretaker system for overseeing elections.
Bangladesh politics have often erupted into violence, with the last serious outbreak of street fighting between rival party activists in 2006 when several people were killed.
The next national election is due to be held by early 2014.