Mob in new attack on Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia's convoy

DHAKA (AFP) - A mob armed with sticks and rocks attacked the car of Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia for a third consecutive day on Wednesday, damaging vehicles in her convoy and injuring at least two people.

Video footage aired by the private Bangla Vision station showed one of the windows of her car was smashed as dozens of people attacked the convoy and beat one of her private security guards as he tried to escape, despite a police presence.

The attack came as Zia launched a campaign for the candidates of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in next week's key mayoral elections in the two largest cities of Dhaka and Chittagong.

Zia, a two-time former premier, is hoping that a strong showing in the polls will add momentum to her long-running campaign to force new national elections.

A former national police chief, who is now an aide of Zia, was also injured as the mob hurled rocks at the convoy in central Dhaka's Bangla Motor area, the station said.

"It was a planned state-sponsored attack on Khaleda Zia. Seven vehicles in her convoy have been vandalised," Zia's spokesman Shimul Biswas told AFP.

"She was attacked as there was no police security for her. The aim of these attacks is to force her out of the election campaign," he said, accusing activists from the ruling Awami League of carrying out the attacks.

Local police chief Moshiur Rahman said one person was injured in the attack by "around 15 unidentified miscreants" who were armed with sticks and rocks.

He said two vehicles had windows smashed but could not confirm whether Zia's car was hit.

It was the third time in three days Zia's convoy has been attacked by alleged ruling party activists.

On Monday shots were fired at her car when it stopped at a market in Dhaka, her secretary said, with television footage showing scores of people attacking her convoy.

Her convoy was also attacked by a rock-throwing mob on Tuesday.

The clashes were the latest episode in Bangladesh's deadly political crisis.

Zia, 69, had been confined to her office compound in Dhaka since Jan 3 after she threatened to lead a massive anti-government rally through the capital on the first anniversary of a disputed national election.

The stoppage was intended to force her bitter rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to quit and pave the way for a new general election under a neutral administration.

Zia finally left her office earlier this month.

But a transport blockade she called while confined unleashed deadly violence, leaving more than 120 people dead as opposition activists firebombed hundreds of buses and trucks and police responded by firing live rounds.

Bangladesh has a long history of deadly political violence, much of it centred around the families of Zia and Hasina who are known as the "Battling Begums".

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