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Bangladesh police arrest hundreds ahead of rally

Written by: Staff
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DHAKA, Sep 17 (Reuters) Bangladesh police have arrested hundreds of people across the country ahead of a political opposition rally in the capital planned for tomorrow.

Police said the latest arrests yesterday included eight members of a group that a senior police officer described as a ''killing squad'' in the capital ahead of the rally. Violence is on the increase ahead of January elections.

Opposition parties said the detentions were aimed at keeping political activists away from a major rally scheduled tomorrow at which a 14-party opposition alliance led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina was expected to call for protests against current Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia.

The senior officer, who asked not to be named said police seized arms and ammunition from the eight people arrested and said ''killing squads'' were hiring young boys to run weapons.

''Police usually don't take such boys as suspects,'' he said.

''But lately we had intelligence tips that killers flooding into the capital ahead of the election have changed tactics.'' A rise in the number of beatings and killings has been ascribed to political parties settling scores ahead of the election. Another police officer said crime gangs, including ''killers for hire'', were flooding major cities, hoping for ''brusque business'' ahead of the polls.

Police said the gangs were not linked with Islamist militants blamed for last year's countrywide serial bomb blasts that killed at least 30 people and wounded 150.

The Islamists want the introduction of sharia law in Bangladesh, a mainly Muslim democracy.

Police have detained nearly 700 people all over the country over the last two days, saying they were identified criminals or suspects.

REUTERS MQA KN1932

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