Anti-government strike hits Bangladesh's capital

By FARID HOSSAIN | June 5, 2011 | 12:29 AM EDT

Flames rise from a bus set on fire by protesters in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Saturday, June 4, 2011. Opposition supporters set fire to at least six buses in Bangladesh's capital on Saturday, the eve of a nationwide anti-government strike, police said. (AP Photo/Hasan Raja)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Schools and shops were closed and traffic was disrupted in Bangladesh's capital on Sunday as thousands of security personnel fanned out across the city during a daylong anti-government strike.

Opposition groups called for the dawn-to-dusk general strike to protest government moves to amend the constitution. The government wants to repeal a provision that requires it to hand over power at the end of its term to a nonpartisan caretaker administration to oversee elections.

The strike shut down schools and shops in Dhaka, a city of 12 million people, and most buses and cars were off the roads.

Police detained seven people as scores of opposition members attempted to hold a street protest in central Dhaka, private television station ATN News reported.

No strike-related violence was reported Sunday, a working day in Bangladesh. But police said protesters set fire to at least 11 buses Saturday.

Dhaka police Commissioner Benazir Ahmed said thousands of security personnel fanned out in Dhaka and elsewhere Sunday to prevent violence.

Bangladesh has a history of political violence, and opposition groups commonly enforce general strikes to highlight their demands.

The opposition groups, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, accuse the government of attempting to cling to power after its five-year term ends in 2014. The government denies the allegation.

Under the constitution, prime ministers must step down after a five-year term to allow a nonpartisan administration to conduct new polls in three months. A former chief justice is usually chosen to head the caretaker administration.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government recently said the caretaker provision should be repealed because it puts an unelected government in power.

The move came after the country's Supreme Court ruled that the provision, included in the constitution in 1996, is undemocratic.

Since the provision's introduction, Bangladesh has held three parliamentary polls supervised by nonpartisan interim governments.