Bangladesh police arrest 1.500 activists before anti-government mass meeting, opposition says

Bangladesh 's main opposition alliance said Friday that police have arrested nearly 1,500 activists in nationwide raids ahead of an anti-government rally planned for the weekend. The Awami League and 13 allied parties have been urging supporters to join the opposition demonstration Sunday in the capital, Dhaka , to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's coalition government.

Opposition parties accuse the government of incompetence, corruption and authoritarianism allegations it denies.

They said that thousands of people were preparing to join the rally despite the arrests and other attempts by police to curb the protest.

At least 500 activists were detained in Dhaka and several other towns on Friday in addition to about 1,000 others who were picked up on Wednesday and Thursday, Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Awami League, told The Associated Press.

"The government has cracked down on us to foil our planned protest," Abdul Jalil said. "But we are now more determined to hold the rally."

Authorities denied that they were arresting opposition members.

"We are detaining crime suspects, but not any political activists," a senior police official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The officer declined to specify the number of detainees or provide further details.

Opposition parties have recently launched a campaign of street protests and general strikes accusing the government of graft, fixing voting lists in its favor and failing to curb rising Islamic militancy.

The government has vowed to remain in power until its five-year term expires in October. A caretaker government will then run the country until elections set for January 2007.

Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 140 million people, has a history of political violence. Two Bangladeshi presidents were assassinated in military coups, and there have been 19 other failed coup attempts since its independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Democracy was restored in 1990 when the country's last military ruler, Hossain Mohammad Ershad, was ousted following massive protests, reports the AP.


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