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Bangladesh police kill six in food, fuel protests

Written by: Staff
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DHAKA, Apr 13 (Reuters) Six people, including a child, were shot dead by police in northern Bangladesh during protests over high food prices and shortages of power and fuel, witnesses and local officials said today.

Authorities reinforced security in the town of Kanshat to quell the protests, which have flared since January and have become a focal point of nationwide anger over soaring food prices.

Across the country, food prices have risen 40 per cent over the past two months and fuel -- particularly diesel -- is in short supply. Power is routinely cut for up to four hours a day.

In the violence late yesterday, a 60-year-old man and an 11-year-old boy were among those killed, the officials said, adding that more than 100 people had been injured.

Nearly 20 policemen were also injured. Police detained dozens of protesters, raided many homes and beat women and children, local officials and journalists in Kanshat said.

''Indiscriminate firing by police on people is absolute barbarism. Instead of solving their problems, the government is trying to suppress the people by force,'' Sheikh Hasina, chief of main opposition Awami League, said in a statement.

Opposition leaders held a rally in Kanshat, about 350 km from Dhaka in one of the country's prime mango-growing areas, and nnounced a countrywide strike on April 20 to protest against the deaths.

''We plan to turn the strike next Thursday into a national protest against the mindless killings and atrocities of people struggling for lawful demands,'' said Rashed Khan Menon, chief of left-wing Workers Party.

The protests and shortages could have a strong bearing on a parliamentary election set for January 2007, in which Sheikh Hasina and current Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia are likely to face off for a fourth time.

Police and paramilitary troops patrolled Kanshat today and warned residents to stay indoors.

Bangladeshis are increasingly taking their protests to the streets as the shortages and high prices of essential goods hit their pockets.

''The Kanshat situation is an outcome of a deep-rooted conspiracy by a vested group and we will not allow the mischief mongers to thrive,'' State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar told reporters today.

REUTERS SHB PM1908

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