Protest over Bangladesh missing leader turns violent

DHAKA Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:26pm IST

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DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladeshi police battled stone-throwing protesters on Thursday during a demonstration over the disappearance of an opposition leader in which dozens of people were injured, police and witnesses said.

Police in the capital Dhaka used batons and teargas to disperse the protesters, who set at least three vehicles on fire and damaged several more outside the office of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), according to the witnesses.

On Tuesday, BNP's young leader Ilyas Ali, a former student leader and former lawmaker, disappeared with his car driver near his Dhaka home.

Party chief Begum Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister, accused the government of "lifting Ilyas Ali" to thwart an opposition campaign aimed at ousting the government and forcing early elections, not due before end of 2013.

The government denies this accusation. Home Minister Sahara Khatun told reporters on Thursday that security agencies were trying to find Ali, but warned that authorities would not tolerate any violence over his disappearance.

Police and witnesses said the protesters had set off dozens of small explosive devices packed with splinters during the protest, and fought running battles with police deployed to restore order.

"At least 15 people were injured, three cars torched and several vehicles also damaged," one witness said.

Police said they had fired teargas shells after the protesters turned on them.

BNP said three of its senior leaders including acting Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir were among those injured, without giving details.

On Thursday, BNP also staged a daylong strike in the northeast part of the country, Ali's constituency and ancestral home, and called for a countrywide strike for Sunday, a working day in Bangladesh.

(Reporting by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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