Bangladesh unrest toll tops 100 as more bodies found

Bangladesh unrest toll tops 100 as more bodies found
MORALLY WRONG: The burnt bus set on fire in Rangpur last month, allegedly by supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

DHAKA - The death toll from weeks of political violence in Bangladesh passed 100 on Monday when police found six bullet-riddled bodies in the capital Dhaka.

Hundreds of vehicles have been firebombed and scores of activists shot dead since opposition leader Khaleda Zia called a transport blockade in early January to try to force new elections, plunging the country into chaos.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has accused police of deliberately killing its activists to try to suppress the protests - a charge the authorities deny.

"Police have shot them dead and have invented stories to hide their crimes," said BNP spokesman Sayrul Kabir Khan of the six dead, whom he said were all shot at close range.

He said 67 opposition supporters had been killed by the security agencies since the start of the protests.

Rights activist Nur Khan Liton said there had been a sharp rise in extra-judicial killings during the ongoing protests.

"What we've gathered from the relatives of three of those killed today is they were killed by security forces," he told AFP.

"We could not reach the relatives of the other three persons." Authorities have deployed thousands of troops and police to guard vehicles and more than 10,000 protesters have been arrested.

The latest deaths brought the number of people killed since the start of the transport blockade to 104.

The government blames opposition activists for firebombing hundreds of vehicles to try to enforce the blockade.

But the BNP denies this, instead blaming ruling party activists and government agents.

BNP leader and two-time prime minister Zia called the protests to try to topple Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Zia leads a 20-party opposition alliance which boycotted a general election last year on the grounds it would be rigged.

She has been confined to her office since threatening early last month to lead a mass rally against the government.

The United Nations and the European Union, Dhaka's biggest trade partner, have urged the government and the opposition to hold talks to end the crisis.

But the standoff appears set to continue, with Hasina refusing to talk to her bitter rival.

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