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Police arrest 8 "killers" ahead of Bangladesh polls

Written by: Staff
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DHAKA, Sep 17 (Reuters) Police in Bangladesh today said they had arrested eight members of a killing squad led by a Dhaka University student, the latest swoop on criminals ahead of next January's election.

The group was detained in the capital, Dhaka, yesterday and a cache of arms and ammunition was seized from them, a senior police officer said.

''Leaders of killing squads now hire young boys, between 10 and 15 years of age, to carry, transport or hide firearms and ammunition,'' said the officer, who asked not to be named.

''Police usually don't take such boys as suspects. But lately we had intelligence tips that killers flooding into the capital ahead of the election have changed operational tactics,'' he said.

The country has turned volatile ahead of the polls, with major political parties using violence to settle scores against their rivals, often leading to deaths and injuries.

Another police officer said crime gangs, including ''killers for hire'', were flooding major cities, hoping for ''brisk 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.

Seven of their top leaders, including Shayek Abdur Rahman and Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai, are awaiting death by hanging after courts sentenced them to die.

State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar said he hoped the sentences would be carried out before Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia ends her five-year rule at the end of October.

Khaleda will hand over power to a caretaker authority, which will supervise the January 2007 parliamentary election.

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

Opposition parties said the detentions were aimed at keeping political activists away from a major rally scheduled for tomorrow.

A 14-party opposition alliance led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina was expected to announce fresh protests against Khaleda at the Dhaka rally.

REUTERS LL PM1127

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