Bangladesh was bracing for another day of violence on Wednesday as an opposition alliance called a strike to demand the overturning of a court ruling banning edicts that could subject women to torture for breaking Islamic law.
The strike has been called by a four-party opposition alliance, which includes the radical Islami Oikyo Jote, to protest police action against the Islamists and to press for the release of detained fundamentalist leaders.
Seven protesters from Islami Oikyo Jote group were shot and killed and some 100 wounded on Tuesday when police and paramilitary troops tried to disperse them.
The protests in the eastern town of Brahmanbaria on Tuesday followed a High Court ruling in December to ban existing fatwas, or Islamic edicts, that could subject women to torture for alleged adultery and prevent them from mixing and working with men.
Railway officials said they were checking for possible sabotage in which a train ran off a bridge into a dry ditch, killing at least two people and scores were injured.
The incident occurred near the southeastern town of Feni early on Wednesday, they said, adding that four coaches of the train carrying some 500 passengers from northeastern Sylhet town to Chittagong plunged into the ditch.
"We are looking into possible sabotage," one railway official said.
Protesters had disrupted train services from Dhaka to Chittagong and Sylhet on Tuesday by removing "fish plates" on the tracks near Brahmanbaria. The links were restored on Tuesday night.
ROADS DESERTED, POLICE TAKE POSITION
Most roads were clear in strike-hit Dhaka on Wednesday. Riot police took up position in strategic city centres while paramilitary troops moved in trucks, witnesses said.
The strike virtually paralysed Bangladesh's main Chittagong port, which handles 80 percent of the country's imports and exports, and shut the Dhaka and Chittagong stock exchanges. Most offices, schools and businesses were closed.
The alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which wants Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign and hold early elections, have staged more than 70 days of country-wide strikes since 1996, costing the impoverished country billions of dollars in lost production and exports.
Hasina has refused to quit. The next parliamentary elections are not due before July 13, 2001.
An Islamic group, Islami Constitution Movement (ICM), which supports the fatwa and opposes the groups campaigning against it, has called for another countrywide strike on Thursday.
The ICM's student front, in a statement, strongly condemned Tuesday's killings in Brahmanbaria and called the dead "martyrs of Jihad".
A Brahmanbaria official said the town remained tense with gun-carrying police and soldiers chasing away pickets, but there were no fresh violence on Wednesday.