Hundreds detained ahead of opposition march in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi authorities detained over 700 opposition activists trying to gather in the capital in defiance of a ban on a protest march called by the BNP to derail the January 5 polls.

The country was under virtual siege as transport services shut down overnight following a government advisory and people braced for fresh political violence. Army and paramilitary personnel patrolled city streets amidst the tense face-off between the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance and the Awami League.

Police raided homes of opposition supporters and trains and took into custody more than 700 activists, police officials told the media.

Reports said activists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami began moving towards Dhaka yesterday evening, well ahead of the march in order to avoid interception by police.

They planned to reach Dhaka under cover of wedding parties as many marriages are set to take place in the capital on the weekend.

BNP leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir accused the Awami League-led interim government of creating a blockade to prevent the opposition activists gathering in Dhaka.

"It seems like section 144 has been imposed countrywide, an undeclared shutdown by the government itself," he said. Law enforcement officials were intimidating people in hotels and restaurants and tracking down protesters from outside Dhaka, Alamgir claimed.

At least 97 passengers were taken off a Dhaka-bound trainin Tangail after policemen searched it for Islamists accused of attacking police in recent months. All Dhaka-bound trains from northern districts were halted at Tangail.

"Fear of sabotage after the recent distasteful experience forced us to take some precautions causing schedule disruptions...Train services between Dhaka and Chittagong, however, are running," a railway spokesman said.

Bus and and ferry operators said that they have stopped services to and from Dhaka due to "security concerns" after a government advisory. Hundreds of Bangladeshi's returning from India were stranded at the western land port of Benapole, with no buses to carry them home.

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