Strike over fuel price hike hits Bangladesh

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh police fired tear gas and water cannon at protestors on Wednesday as a nationwide strike over a hike in fuel prices brought large parts of the country to a halt.

A coalition of leftwing parties, including the Communist Party of Bangladesh, called the strike to protest a recent increase in diesel, kerosene and gasoline prices, saying it was due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund.

Most schools, shops and private businesses were closed in the capital, the normally congested Dhaka streets were largely empty and motorways were deserted, affecting deliveries from the ports.

Police fired tear gas at scores of activists near the Communist party headquarters in Dhaka after they tried to barricade a key road and smash vehicles, local police chief Golam Sarwar told AFP.

"They became violent and also burnt tyres on the road," he said.

MR Sarwar said that no one had been reported injured.

The online edition of the Daily Star, however, said several people were hurt and that police had used pepper spray to disperse the activists.

Police also sprayed coloured water from a cannon on protesters at a road crossing, according to an AFP correspondent who was at the scene.

The strike was the eighth to hit the impoverished and politically volatile country in the last six weeks.

The country's main opposition parties also held a strike on Jan 4 to protest the latest fuel price hike. They also enforced series of strikes last month demanding polls under a neutral technocrat-led caretaker administration.

Bangladesh on Jan 3 raised fuel prices by up to 11 per cent, saying that the spike was needed to cut the country's growing energy subsidy bill.

The government said the hike would save more than US$300 million (S$367 million).

Leftwing parties said the increase was one of the strings attached by the IMF to secure a tranche of the US$1 billion soft loan that it agreed to provide Bangladesh in April last year.

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