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Gunbattle erupts during Bangladesh protest, 3 dead

Written by: Staff
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DHAKA, Dec 4 (Reuters) Three people were killed in Bangladesh today when groups of rival political activists fired on each other during the second day of a transport blockade that has paralysed the country ahead of elections next month.

About 50 people were wounded in the gunbattle between Awami League supporters, which had called the blockade, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Maheshkhali island, 350 km southeast of capital Dhaka, police said.

''The gunbattle raged for an hour, before they were chased away by police,'' said senior administrative officer Aminul Islam.

Political violence has mounted in the impoverished country ahead of the election set for January, with no sign of an end to a prolonged stalemate between the main political parties.

The latest blockade -- fourth in as many weeks -- has been called by the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina to force the country's interim government to restructure the election commission, change the election schedule and overhaul the voters' list which it says is necessary to ensure a free and fair poll.

The BNP led by Begum Khaleda Zia has rejected the Awami League's allegations and accuses its bitter rival of trying to sabotage the election.

The latest violence took place as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department for South Asian Affairs, John A Gastright, held talks with government officials on the political situation in the country.

''We offered our strong support to the caretaker government in its efforts to move forward with free, fair and non-violent election,'' he told reporters after meeting Foreign Secretary Hemayetuddin at the start of a two-day trip.

The caretaker government headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed has held talks with leaders of the rival parties to resolve the stalemate.

Khaleda ended her five-year tenure as prime minister late in October, handing over power to the caretaker authority. The constitution dictates a general election must be held within three months of the change over.

Witnesses said road links between the capital Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong, remained paralysed on the second day of the blockade.

Officials say 44 people have been killed in five weeks of political unrest and hundreds injured.

REUTERS SSC PM1616

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