General strike shuts down Bangladesh businesses

Schools and businesses were shut across Bangladesh on Tuesday as the country's main opposition party enforced a dawn-to-dusk general strike to protest against alleged misrule by the government.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia said the strike was called to protest a court rejecting Zia's appeal against eviction from a military-owned house where she lived for nearly three decades as well as harassment of its supporters.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Zia's archrival, has said the opposition is simply trying to destabilize the country to protect its own interests.

Thousands of security officials were deployed to prevent any violence during the strike, and police installed barbed-wire fences around the headquarters of Zia's party in downtown Dhaka. Only a handful of buses and three-wheelers could be seen plying the capital's usually clogged streets.

General strikes are a common opposition tactic in politically unstable Bangladesh and have been known to turn violent. While police said at least 13 vehicles were torched on Monday night, there were no reports of major violence.

The opposition strike is the second this month and follows a Supreme Court decision Monday to reject three appeals against Zia's eviction from the military housing. The house was allotted to Zia on humanitarian grounds in 1981, when her husband, former President Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated in a military coup.

Under Hasina's government, military authorities asked Zia to vacate the home, saying she was violating the allotment conditions by conducting politics from inside a military area. Military authorities said Zia left the home voluntarily to respect the court order, but she said she was dragged out.

The opposition said Tuesday's strike was also in protest of harassment of its supporters. Khandaker Delwar Hossain, secretary general of Zia's party, said police have arrested at least 1,300 opposition supporters over the last few days to intimidate party activists.

The government has said all of those arrested were facing various charges and their detention was not politically motivated.

The opposition also said the government has failed to keep soaring commodity prices under control and maintain law and order.

The back-and-forth accusations reflect the bitter rivalry between Bangladesh's two major parties as the country struggles to return to normalcy following a return to elected government in 2008 after nearly two years under a state of emergency.