DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Authorities in Bangladesh arrested a key opposition figure from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Sunday and sent him to prison after hours of detention. The party had called for a nationwide strike after violent clashes with security forces a day earlier.
Media reports said at least three civilians died in the violence, which included an arson attack in the nation's capital, Dhaka, on Sunday. Dozens of others were injured during the strike.
At least one police officer was killed and scores were injured Saturday when a massive rally by tens of thousands of opposition activists turned violent, police said. The opposition is demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the transfer of power to a non-partisan caretaker government to oversee general elections next year.
Almost nine hours after detention, police late Sunday arrested Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the secretary general of the Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s main rival, said Faruk Hossain, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police in charge of media.
Detectives produced Alamgir before a magistrate court late Sunday when his bail request was rejected and he was ordered to be sent to prison, pending further legal procedures involving charges of vandalism during Saturday's violence.
Police said a group of opposition supporters attacked the official residence of the country's chief justice during Saturday's protest. Alamgir has been implicated in the case.
The party denounced his detention and announced a three-day blockade of mainly roads and public transportation across the country starting on Tuesday.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Habibur Rahman said that Alamgir was detained for questioning. Under the law, he must appear in court within 24 hours.
Hossain also said that 1,300 people were being investigated for Saturday's violence. Local reports said police had raided the homes of several opposition leaders overnight in Dhaka.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters that leaders of Zia's party have to bear responsibility for their role in the violence, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported.
Amid growing tension in a country dominated by the two major dynastic political parties of Hasina and Zia, the ruling party's General Secretary Obaidul Quader said Sunday that there would be no dialogue with the opposition before the election unless it agrees with four issues, including the ruling out of a caretaker government. The party is also demanding that Hasina remain the head of government until the election, and it rejects any changes to the Election Commission.
The ruling party and its 13 allies will rally in Dhaka on Monday to denounce the violence by the opposition.
On Sunday, at least three vehicles were set on fire in the capital as police increased security.
The United News of Bangladesh agency reported that two people, including an opposition activist, were killed in Dhaka while a ruling party man died in the northern district of Lalmonirhat on Sunday. It said at least 42 vehicles were vandalized in Dhaka and two other cities in northern and northeastern Bangladesh.
The news agency said more than 100 people were injured in parts of Bangladesh while police arrested over 540 opposition supporters in Dhaka and in several other districts across the country during the daylong strike.
The European Union and the United States urged all sides to maintain restraint as tensions soared ahead of the national elections, expected to be held in January.
The U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, Donald Lu, said Washington “will review all violent incidents for possible visa restrictions.”
There are calls for compromise.
“Unless the political parties see reason and abandon their politics of confrontation, we fear the situation will only get worse in the coming days. This is in no way desirable for the people, or the economy, which is already reeling from multiple internal and external shocks,” the country's leading English-language Daily Star newspaper said in an editorial.
The rivalry between Hasina and Zia has been ongoing for decades. Hasina’s government has been under pressure for months as the opposition has held largely peaceful anti-government demonstrations.
Critics and rights groups have criticized Hasina's administration for suppressing opposition voices, an allegation authorities have denied.
Hasina, who has touted her development agenda, hopes to return to power for a fourth consecutive term. She says the election should be held under her government’s supervision as specified in the constitution. The opposition says the election won't be free and fair, despite Hasina's pledges.
The prime minister recently told parliament that the U.S. wants to remove her from power at any cost. The U.S. has threatened to deny visas to those it says were obstructing the election process. They include members of law enforcement agencies as well as the ruling and opposition parties.