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Bangladesh hit by strike, violence

From Farid Ahmed, For CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Opposition parties begin a general strike protesting change in the electoral system
  • The nonpartisan caretaker government system has been in place since 1996
  • The ruling coalition overwhelmingly voted to abolish the system
  • Opposition claims ruling parties are trying to rig the next general election
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Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Riot police patrolled the streets to break up opposition protests in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh on Wednesday as opposition parties began a 48-hour general strike protesting a government move to change the electoral system

Sporadic clashes erupted in different parts of the country as police tried to break up protests against the government.

In a police attack in Dhaka, the opposition chief whip in parliament, Joynal Abedin Faruk, was wounded and was hospitalized, police and party leaders said.

Most offices, educational institutions and businesses remained shut and public transports were severely disrupted across the country because of the strike.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and its ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami called the strike in protest against the electoral system change. Last month, Bangladesh's parliament abolished the nonpartisan caretaker government system that oversees general elections.

Bangladesh has a long history of electoral violence. The caretaker system, which installs a nonparty government for an interim period between two elected governments, was instituted in 1996 amid bloody street violence over elections.

Under the system, the interim government looks after routine administration and is primarily responsible for holding free and fair general elections within 90 days.

The system came under fire in 2007 after a military-backed interim government stayed beyond its mandated three months and delayed the voting by about two years.

Bangladesh's Supreme Court recently pronounced the caretaker government provision illegal.

The next general elections are scheduled for early 2014.

Even before the current general strike began, protesters torched at least 10 buses and cars in Dhaka, the capital, Tuesday night.

Police said they had arrested nearly 450 people from different parts of the country on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

BNP chief Khaleda Zia blasted the government for police action that left the opposition chief whip in parliament hospitalized with serious injuries.

"It was an attempt to kill the opposition chief whip Faruk," Zia said, asking the government to take action against the policemen responsible for the assault.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament on Wednesday that the opposition strike was unjustified and asked citizens to be united and resist destructive activities in the name of strike.