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Government, opposition groups clash in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Ruling party supporters and their opponents threw stones at each other Monday on the second day of sporadic violence in the Bangladeshi capital, after heavy police presence foiled an opposition plan for a rally to pressure the government to scrap next month's election.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and its allies had planned a mass gathering in Dhaka on Sunday, but police barred Zia from leaving her home while cordoning off the venue in front of the party's headquarters.

Zia's home remained cordoned off Monday. She had been scheduled to address Sunday's rally to step up the pressure on her archrival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to cancel the Jan. 5 elections and hand over power to a caretaker government to oversee the vote.

Women members of the ruling Awami League party clashed with a group of lawyers tied to Zia's party on the Supreme Court premises. They threw stones at each other but no injuries were immediately reported.

No major violence was reported elsewhere in the country despite a call from the main opposition party to block roads, railways and waterways.

Hasina said she would go ahead with the election despite the opposition boycott to avoid a constitutional crisis. The Election Commission is supporting the polls, citing the constitution that says elections must be held 90 days before the government's five-year term expires, or by Jan. 24.

The European Union, the U.S. and the British Commonwealth said they would not send observers for the election. The government has nevertheless pledged that the vote would be credible. An election watchdog of 29 non-governmental organizations, which works closely with donors, said it would monitor the Jan. 5 vote.

Zia's party condemned the government's had-line approach and vowed to continue its protest unless the government halts the election.

At least one person, a student, was killed in clashes Sunday between security forces and opposition activists, police said. Authorities have detained more than 1,550 people in a crackdown since last week, further deepening the political crisis in the impoverished South Asian nation.

More than 150 people have died in political violence in Bangladesh since October. The conflict pits an opposition alliance led by Zia's party against Hasina, who accuses Zia of protecting people being tried or convicted of war crimes involving the nation's 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the main partner of Zia's party, wants the government to halt the war crimes trials of its leaders. Zia says the trials initiated by Hasina are politically motivated to weaken the opposition, which the government denies. Jamaat-e-Islami is banned from taking part in the election.

Businesses have expressed concern about the political standoff, saying the conflict is hampering the country's progress in manufacturing, including a burgeoning garment industry that earns more than $20 billion a year from exports.