Bangladesh opposition leader says 242 supporters killed in month

DHAKA - Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia accused the government Tuesday of "state terrorism", saying more than 240 of her supporters were killed during a four-week period that included last month's controversial election.

Zia, a two-time former premier who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), said security forces and ruling party activists were behind the killings and forced disappearance of her supporters.

Zia said the party had collected information on the incidents that occurred between December 26 and January 27 and also included some 29,262 arrests of opposition supporters.

"According to the information collected at BNP headquarters, in one month 242 opposition leaders and activists were killed and 60 were victims of enforced disappearances," Zia told reporters.

"The real picture is more shocking. The incidents of killings, enforced disappearances and torture of targeted opposition workers and leaders have become commonplace," she said.

"I urge the government to end this state terrorism."

The comments follow those of the country's main Islamist party and BNP ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, which says at least 59 opposition activists -- mostly Jamaat supporters -- have been killed.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a crackdown on opposition unrest after her victory in the January 5 general election, which was marred by deadly violence and an opposition boycott.

Police say the number of deaths total only just over a dozen, and insist that most of those were killed during clashes with security forces who were firing in self-defence.

A local rights activist, who did not want to be named and who has investigated some of the cases, has said security forces were targeting Jamaat and BNP activists and were even demolishing their homes with bulldozers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has also expressed concern over the "frightening pattern" of the killings of opposition members before and after the polls.

Zia, Hasina's arch rival, demanded an investigation into what she called extra-judicial killings.

She also branded Hasina's secular Awami League government "illegal", claiming it only received five per cent of the votes in the election. The Election Commission put the turnout at around 40 per cent.

Zia also renewed her call for a fresh poll to be overseen by a neutral caretaker government.