DHAKA - Bangladesh opposition supporters blocked roads and ripped up railway tracks Tuesday in protests against the announcement of an election date, leaving four people dead and plunging the nation into fresh turmoil.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies called a 48-hour nationwide blockade to press their demand for a suspension of the January 5 general election date announced Monday evening.
The BNP has been urging Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign and make way for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the election. It has been holding violent protests and strikes around the country to back its demand.
Hasina's government has rejected the demand and the Chief Elections Commissioner pushed ahead with the date, calling on parties to take part in the contest for the 300-seat parliament.
Opposition protesters took to the streets in cities and towns immediately after the announcement and clashes resumed Tuesday with police, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and in some cases live rounds.
"We fired rifles after about 500 protesters attacked us with home-made guns and small bombs," Abul Khaer, a police official in the eastern district of Comilla, told AFP.
Two people died in Comilla, including a protester caught in a small bomb blast overnight, police said. A ruling party official was beaten to death in the southern district of Satkhira by supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party and a key opposition ally.
Police said one protester drowned in the northern town of Sirajganj after he jumped into a pond to escape tear gas, although ATN News TV station said he died after being hit by a gas shell.
Train services have been "paralysed" with hundreds of demonstrators uprooting tracks and sleepers, setting fire to coaches and blocking lines, Bangladesh Railway's traffic director Syed Zahur Hossain told AFP.
"There are at least 60 incidents of train obstructions including torchings, uprooting of tracks, attacking trains with stones and blockades of rail lines," he said, adding that major services between Dhaka and the cities of Chittagong and Sylhet were halted.