DHAKA, Apr 20: Hundreds of opposition activists marched in the Bangladeshi capital today under the watchful eyes of riot police as a daylong strike took hold across the country.
Most streets were largely empty of vehicles, while schools and many offices were closed, witnesses said.
Residents in the sprawling city of 10 million people feared more violence after at least 100 people were injured in clashes with police yesterday during an opposition bid to lay siege to the office of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia.
Police yesterday detained nearly 70 activists, the leaders of a 14-party opposition alliance, headed by Khaleda's arch rival Sheikh Hasina, told reporters.
''The government let loose its pet police forces and hired goons to take us on. They unleashed extreme barbarism during our peaceful march towards the PM's office,'' said Abdur Razzak, a former minister and senior leader of Hasina's Awami League.
''In protest, we have called for another countrywide strike on Sunday,'' Razzak said before today's strike began taking hold.
Sunday is a working day in mainly Muslim Bangladesh.
Authorities deployed nearly 8,000 police and paramilitary troops in Dhaka today.
''Our job is to ensure law and order but we won't spare anyone who tries to set off violence,'' said a senior police officer, who asked not to be named.
The opposition have tried for years to shake the stability of Khaleda's government through a series of strikes and other protests, but with no success.
The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which faces the main opposition party Awami League in the next parliamentary election in January 2007, says ''strikes as a political tool have become blunt due to over use''.
''So, they (opposition) should exercise a little cool and wait for the people's mandate in a few months,'' said BNP secretary-general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan late on Wednesday.