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Nearly 100 hurt in Bangladesh water, power protest

By Staff
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DHAKA, Apr 5 (Reuters) At least 100 people were injured and over a dozen vehicles burned as rock-throwing protesters blockaded a highway near the Bangladesh capital today in a protest over shortages of drinking water and electricity.

Witnesses said the violence erupted when police tried to break up a demonstration by an estimated 10,000 people who gathered on the highway on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, chanting demands for clean water and uninterrupted power.

Police fired teargas shells and used batons to evict crowds squatting on the highway linking the capital with the main port city of Chittagong, they said.

The crowds attacked a police outpost, ransacked a fish market and damaged a health clinic. The violence continued to spread as night fell, reporters at the scene said.

Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina blasted the government on Friday for its inability to improve supplies of utilities.

''Prices are scaling to the sky, supplies have almost run out and the country is facing its hardest time on every front. Yet the government is ignoring everything,'' Hasina said.

Today's protests come after the deaths of 20 people, mostly farmers, in police firing in the country's northwest over the last few months during protests for better supplies of power, diesel and water.

The government, however, accused the opposition of provoking the unrest ahead of a January 2007 parliamentary election.

Violence spread at the site of today's sit-in when activists of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) attacked the protesters, witnesses said.

A number of vehicles, including several air-conditioned buses, were damaged in stone-throwing, they said.

Authorities have largely withdrawn police from the spot, apparently to defuse the anger of the protesters. ''It is not often possible to restore order when everyone turns unruly,'' a police officer said.

Most areas in Bangladesh including Dhaka have been without power for several hours each day. There is also a shortage of clean drinking water in the capital city of 10 million and most other parts of the country.

The total nationwide power generation is 3,000 megawatts against demand of 4,500 megawatts, an official of the state-owned Power Development Board said.

Out of Bangladesh's nearly 60 power generation plants, 25 were out of operation due to mechanical faults, the official said.

REUTERS OM RN2002

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