DHAKA: Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse rallies across Bangladesh Sunday as protesters blocked roads and threw petrol bombs, demanding early elections under a neutral caretaker government.
In the capital Dhaka, police in riot gear attempted to break up rallies in a dozen locations with demonstrators throwing small handmade bombs, burning tyres and setting fire to cars and buses, police said.
Despite a heavy security presence in an effort to keep highways open, with some 10,000 police deployed, officials said the country's inter-district road system had ground to a halt due to the rallies.
“We allowed peaceful protests. But once they started attacking cars and buses and throwing cocktail bombs, we used non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them,” deputy police commissioner Imtiaz Ahmed told AFP in Dhaka.
Police clashed with protesters in the cities of Khulna, Rajshahi, Barisal and Sylhet, and in northern Palashbari town security forces fired non-lethal shots at hundreds of protesters blocking a key access road, officials said.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) staged the rallies urging early elections under a caretaker government -- a system implemented through a constitutional clause that has been scrapped by the incumbent Awami League-led administration.
The past four general elections in Bangladesh were held under the caretaker government system, which would take over for three months at the end of an elected government's tenure, and oversee the next round of national polls.
The BNP and its 17 smaller allies including Islamic parties have said they will not take part in any future elections unless the caretaker government system is restored.
The online edition of the Daily Star newspaper said at least 60 handmade petrol bombs were exploded in the capital during the clashes.
“Around 50 people were detained for violence,” Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP, adding 10 buses and cars were torched during the protests in the capital.