Bangladesh Demos Spread; Curfew Imposed

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; 11:36 PM

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- The military-backed government imposed an indefinite curfew in six major cities Wednesday, clearing the streets and temporarily shutting down cell phones in a bid to quell three days of unrest by students demanding an end to emergency rule.

Police with loudspeakers urged residents to stay home as the curfew came into effect at 8 p.m. Security forces patrolled the deserted streets.

"This is a temporary measure. The curfew will be lifted as soon as the situation improves," Bangladesh's interim head of government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, said in a brief televised speech.

The curfew order came after students took their protests from university campuses to the streets of the capital, burning cars and buses and battling with security forces. Students also clashed with police in three other cities.

Cell phones stopped working about an hour before the curfew went into effect. An official at the country's largest mobile operator, GrameenPhone, said the government ordered all cell phone service temporarily shut down. The official asked not to be identified for fear of upsetting authorities.

Wednesday saw the first death in three days of mayhem when students attacked a police checkpoint northwest of Dhaka, the United News of Bangladesh agency said.

There were differing accounts of how the unidentified man died _ students charged police fatally beat him, but police said the man was killed by a stone thrown by a protester.

Demonstrations have spread across the grindingly poor South Asian country since Monday with students demanding an end to emergency rule. The emergency was imposed in January when President Iajuddin Ahmed canceled scheduled elections, outlawed demonstrations, curtailed press freedoms and limited other civil liberties.

The interim government now running Bangladesh is doing so with the backing of the military, which ruled the country throughout the 1980s. Officials say elections will be held in late 2008.

The protests began when University of Dhaka students called for the removal of an army post from the campus. The soldiers withdrew a day later after violent protests left 150 people injured, but the students' demands escalated and the protests continued. Hundreds have since been hurt.

On Wednesday, students said they wanted the return of democracy immediately.

"We don't want this emergency rule. It has curtailed our freedom. We want democracy," said Mohammad Rabi, a student leader.

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© 2007 The Associated Press