DHAKA, Bangladesh – Clashes between Bangladeshi police and students demanding an end to emergency rule spilled into the streets of the capital Wednesday, prompting the government to impose an indefinite curfew.
The government's order came after students rampaged through the streets of Dhaka, setting cars and buses on fire and battling with police, who used batons and tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Wednesday also saw the first death since the clashes erupted two days earlier at the University of Dhaka. Hundreds of injuries have been reported in the past three days.
Authorities ordered all cell phones temporarily shut down as the curfew took effect in the capital and other major cities. There was no official announcement of the shutdown, but cell phones stopped working about an hour before the curfew went into effect at 8 p.m. local time.
An official at the country's largest cell phone operator, GrameenPhone, said authorities had ordered all mobile networks temporarily shut down. The official asked not to be identified for fear or upsetting the military-backed interim government.
The death occurred when students from Rajshahi University, in northwestern Bangladesh, set the vice chancellor's home on fire and attacked a police checkpoint, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported.
There were competing accounts of how the unidentified man died — students charged police fatally beat him, but police said the man was killed by a stone thrown by one the protesters.
Demonstrations have spread across the grindingly poor South Asian country in the past three days with students demanding an end to emergency rule, imposed in January when President Iajuddin Ahmed canceled scheduled elections and declared a state of emergency.
The interim government now running Bangladesh is doing so with the backing of the military, which ruled the country until throughout the 1980s.
The protests began when University of Dhaka students called for the removal of an army post from the campus. The soldiers withdrew a day later after violent protests left 150 injured, but the students' demands escalated and the protests continued.
"It seems the situation is worsening," University of Dhaka official Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Within hours of his comments, students were battling police in downtown Dhaka. Away from the clashes, students put up burning barricades on the largely deserted streets.
The government fist warned in a statement Wednesday afternoon that it would "be compelled to take tough action to maintain normalcy" if there was no end to the protests, which are banned under the emergency rules.
A short while later, authorities imposed an indefinite curfew from 8 p.m. onwards in Dhaka and six other major cities.
The move was intended to "protect public life and property," said the government's legal adviser, Mainul Hosein. "We hope the measure will help restore normalcy."
Sporadic unrest has broken out across Bangladesh in the months since Ahmed canceled the elections and declared a state of emergency. His measures followed weeks of violent street protests and crippling strikes by opposition parties demanding electoral reforms.
No election date has been announced, but the Election Commission has said the polls will be held near the end of 2008.