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3 dead, scores hurt in Bangladesh strike

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JULHAS ALAM | October 27, 2013 03:54 AM EST | AP

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Police and backers of Bangladesh's ruling party clashed Sunday with opposition supporters, leaving at least three people dead and scores injured in different parts of the country as opposition parties try to enforce a nationwide general strike.

The protest is aimed at forcing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to quit and form a caretaker government made up of people from outside political parties to oversee an election due by early next year. The shutdown is to continue until Tuesday night.

One activist of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party died in southwestern district of Faridpur after security officials opened fire on stone-throwing protesters, local police official Abul Kalam said.

He said the police were forced to open fire after opposition activists attacked them in the area, which is 64 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of the capital, Dhaka.

Kalam said at least six others were hurt.

One backer of the ruling Awami League party was hacked to death, reportedly by opposition activists, in Jessore, 135 kilometers (85 miles) west of Dhaka.

Separately, violence in the northern district of Pabna left a man belonging to the country's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, dead.

The dispute centers around who would oversee an election the government has to hold within the next three months. A system of caretaker governments taking people from outside the parties has been used for 15 years, but the government scrapped it after the Supreme Court ruled that the system contradicts the constitution.

The opposition led by former Prime Minister Khaelda Zia has demanded that the system be restored and has threatened to boycott the election. The government rejects the demand, and earlier this month proposed forming an all-party government instead.

On Saturday evening, in a rare telephone call, Hasina invited her arch rival Zia to dinner to her official residence on Monday to discuss the issue and requested a stop to the general strike that began Sunday morning. Zia refused, saying she would consider the invitation after the 60-hour strike expires on Tuesday evening.

Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy, and the country has been alternately ruled by Hasina and Zia since 1991. But the issue of peaceful transfers of power has remained a major challenge.

Television stations said the violence has left scores hurt across the country since Saturday, with explosions of homemade bombs reported in Dhaka and elsewhere, including bombs thrown at the official homes of two senior justices and the offices of four television stations and newspapers late Saturday.

Several vehicles were torched in Dhaka during the strike, and Channel 24 TV station said opposition activists attacked a train and set fire to it, injuring at least 20 people in Joypurhat district, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Dhaka.

On Friday, similar violence left at least six people dead across the country.