Bangladesh court charges 147 opposition supporters over blasts in Dhaka

DHAKA (AFP) - A court in Bangladesh on Monday ordered the trial of nearly 150 people, including senior leaders of the main opposition party, over an explosion outside their headquarters last year.

The move to charge 147 people with setting off explosives in the capital Dhaka came as the opposition mounted fresh protests to try to unseat a government they say is illegal.

Hundreds of opposition supporters have been charged since violent protests over disputed elections held in January left more than 500 people dead across the country.

The latest case concerns small explosions that took place in March 2013 outside the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) head office.

After the blasts, police stormed the building, ransacked rooms and arrested key officials, in a raid shown live on private television channels.

"All 147 were charged under the country's speedy trial laws. They could be jailed for up to 10 years if they're found guilty," prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP.

The court also issued arrest warrants against 48 people who failed to turn up at the court, he said.

The BNP-led 19-party alliance boycotted the January 5 elections, allowing the ruling Awami League party and its allies to clinch all the parliamentary seats in a polls marred by violence and widespread fraud.

Defence lawyers blasted the latest charges, calling them a "ploy" by the government to derail fresh opposition protests aimed at forcing an early general election.

"It came at a time when the opposition has called for a new movement against the government," defence lawyer Sanaullah Miah told AFP, adding that at least 20 senior opposition officials among those charged.

He said at least 250 BNP figures, including former ministers and lawmakers had been charged with violence in recent weeks after BNP leader Khaleda Zia urged supporters to return to the streets for countrywide protests.

Ms Zia, a two-time former prime minister, is also facing two corruption cases that could see her barred from politics if she is found guilty.

She has called the new government illegal and called her supporters to regroup for nationwide protests to topple the government.

Mr Abu said the judge had set Sept 25 for the next date of hearing.

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