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Panic grips Bangladesh ahead of transport blockade

Written by: Staff
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DHAKA, Nov 19 (Reuters) Bangladeshis are fleeing the capital Dhaka ahead of a countrywide transport blockade from tomorrow, the second in less than a week.

Schools are trying to finish annual tests, banks are working extra hours, while many are buying tickets out of Dhaka, witnesses said.

Even weddings are being rushed.

A Dhaka community centre said it had received several requests to speed up the bookings for wedding parties that had been scheduled for next Thursday and today.

''The country is up for another crippling shutdown of buses, trains and ferries -- and also for violence that could be widespread,'' a senior police officer said on Sunday.

Two people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes with police and between rival activists during the previous stoppage.

The crippling blockades are organised by a 14-party alliance determined to boot out poll officials ahead of national elections in January.

The alliance is led by Sheikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League, who accuses the election officials of being biased towards her rivals, particularly the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and its leader Begum Khaleda Zia.

Several students were injured in clashes today between supporters of Hasina and Khaleda at Dhaka University, police said.

Authorities earlier extended a campus holiday and suspended all examinations at the 50,000-student university until November. 26 because of the volatile political situation, officials said.

Ms Khaleda stepped down last month at the end of her five-year term and the country is now being run by an interim administration headed by the president.

Ms Hasina believes her alliance will win January's parliamentary election if the poll officials step aside.

During Ms Khaleda's term, Ms Hasina and her alliance led dozens of nationwide strikes and protests. Last week's four-day blockade shut everything from schools to ports for four days.

Ms Abdur Rouf and his ailing father were among the many fleeing Dhaka today. He whisked his father out of hospital and boarded a bus out of the city.

''I cannot really wait and see what happens,'' said Mr Rouf, who came from the eastern district of Brahmanbaria after doctors referred his father to Dhaka for better treatment.

''We must go back while the roads are open,'' he told Reuters.

The BNP and ally Jamaat-e-Islami party called for rallies in the capital and other cities today to demonstrate their ''resolve to counter the Awami offensive, including the transport blockade''.

Witnesses said thousands of chanting activists marched into the capital to join the rally in the afternoon.

REUTERS MQA RK1630

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