Seven dead as Bangladesh's political crisis deepens

Burning vehicles, set on fire by opposition demonstrators, are pictured during violent protests in Dhaka on Jan 6, 2015. A political crisis in Bangladesh deepened on Thursday, after two more people died in a crackdown on anti-government proteste
Burning vehicles, set on fire by opposition demonstrators, are pictured during violent protests in Dhaka on Jan 6, 2015. A political crisis in Bangladesh deepened on Thursday, after two more people died in a crackdown on anti-government protesters and the High Court issued a gag order on media from covering statements made by the opposition leader's son. -- PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (Reuters) - A political crisis in Bangladesh deepened on Thursday, after two more people died in a crackdown on anti-government protesters and the High Court issued a gag order on media from covering statements made by the opposition leader's son.

Police said they opened fire on armed protesters in the southern district of Noakhali on Wednesday night. Two people were shot and killed in the clash, according to a police official, but he said they were not killed by police bullets, despite media reports to the contrary.

"We had to open fire when the protesters started firing after torching a number of vehicles and smashing some shops,"police official Mohammad Ainul Haq told Reuters.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said the victims were its supporters, but Haq said they were bystanders.

Separately, police said an auto-rickshaw passenger was attacked and killed by anti-government protesters in the central district of Sirajganj, bringing the death toll to seven in violence that began on Monday, the first anniversary of an election rejected by the opposition.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia have been locked in a stand-off all week, as Khaleda, whose BNP boycotted last year's vote, has called for fresh elections under a neutral administration and Hasina has refused to step down.

On Wednesday, the High Court issued an order "to prohibit all media to publish any statement" by Khaleda's son, Tareque Rahman, her apparent political heir.

Early on Thursday, the village house of one of the two judges who passed the order was set on fire, police said.

Meanwhile, in the northeast, BNP supporters derailed a train, injuring 20, in response to Khaleda's call for a nationwide blockade.

The prime minister denounced the BNP leadership's calls for protest. "It is not a mass movement," Hasina said at a seminar in Dhaka. "It is terrorism. It is militancy." Khaleda says she has been confined to her office in the diplomatic enclave of the capital, Dhaka, since the weekend.

The government denied Khaleda was being held against her will, and says it has deployed extra security for her protection.

Police unlocked the main gate to the office on Thursday, but security forces remained deployed outside and the opposition leader had not left the premises.