Around 50 people were injured as supporters of former army ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad battled with police in northern Bangladesh yesterday, witnesses said.
The army was called in to help curb the violence, which erupted during a day-long strike in Ershad's home town of Rangpur and four nearby districts a day after authorities rejected the ex-dictator's applications to contest next month's elections.
"It has been a running battle with protesters attacking government offices and vehicles," one witness said by telephone.
Teargas and bullets
"Police fired teargas and rubber bullets trying to disperse stone-throwing and stick-carrying Ershad supporters. About 50 people have been injured," he said.
Local officials said the army was deployed around noon to assist police and paramilitary troops by patrolling the streets and also chasing protesters.
Ershad's supporters called the strike after election officials on Wednesday declared his application to contest five constituencies in the January 22 ballot "unacceptable" due to legal troubles he faces over corruption charges.
It paralyzed all five districts, known to be a stronghold of Ershad, who ruled Bangladesh for nine years until December 1990 and followed protests on Wednesday when supporters wrecked vehicles and vandalized local election and district administration offices.
"The protests today are far more violent," said a local reporter yesterday. "The town has not seen such fury for many years."
Ershad, the leader of the Jatiya Party, has now formed an alliance with former prime minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League, the main opposition party for the past five years to Begum Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh National Party.
Ershad, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1982, was ousted in a people's revolt led jointly by Khaleda and Hasina.
The two women, who have alternated as prime minister of the impoverished southern Asian country for the past 15 years, fell out after Ershad's fall and have since remained foes. Both are key contenders for power in the upcoming election.
The Supreme Court ordered Ershad on Tuesday to give himself up after it had upheld a two-year jail term for squandering state funds in a deal to buy patrol boats from Japan while in power.
But he alleged a "plot to keep me off the race" while the Awami League said the verdict was "remote-controlled" with Ershad being punished for refusing to make an alliance with Khaleda.
Khaleda ended her five-year term as prime minister late in October and handed power to an interim government, headed by Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed.