February 8, 2018 / 8:25 AM / 3 months ago

Bangladesh police fire tear gas to scatter opposition protesters

DHAKA, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Bangladesh police used tear gas on Thursday to disperse thousands of opposition activists who took to the streets of the capital ahead of the verdict in a graft case against a former prime minister.

Protesters swarmed the roads, defying a police ban on rallies, as opposition leader Khaleda Zia headed to the court, set to deliver the verdict in a case about an orphanage trust set up when she was last prime minister, from 2001 to 2006.

“Security has been ramped up in the capital and elsewhere in the country to thwart any untoward incidents,” Dhaka Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia told reporters outside the court.

Television broadcast images of motorcycles set on fire.

Earlier on Thursday, the normally clogged streets of Dhaka were almost bare, after authorities cut off bus and ferry services into the city and thousands of riot police spread out in anticipation of unrest.

Prosecutors have accused Khaleda, her son and aides of stealing 21 million taka ($253,000) in foreign donations received by the trust.

If convicted, Khaleda faces sentences ranging up to life in prison, which would keep her from running in parliamentary polls set for December.

Khaleda and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) say the charges are part of a plot to keep the leader and her family out of politics. Party leaders said more than 3,500 supporters were detained over the past few days.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda, both related to former national leaders, have nursed a long and bitter rivalry, and have dominated politics in Bangladesh for more than two decades.

The renewed tension between them raises the spectre of a long, destabilising spell of unrest for Bangladesh and its economy. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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