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Article updated: 5/6/2013 9:28 AM

Bangladesh police, Islamic activists clash; 20 die

By

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Police banned all rallies in Bangladesh's capital for the rest of the day Monday after at least 20 people died in clashes between police and large numbers of Islamic hard-liners demanding that the government enact an anti-blasphemy law, officials said.

A police official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said 13 people, including two police and a paramilitary soldier, were killed in clashes in Kanchpur just outside Dhaka. He said seven others died in Motijheel, a commercial area of the capital.

The protesters blocked roads with burning tires and logs during more than five hours of clashes. They also attacked a police station and set fire to at least 30 vehicles, including police trucks, private Ekattar TV reported.

The private United News of Bangladesh reported that the violence erupted after security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in the central commercial district.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police said in a statement that all rallies and protests had been banned in the city until midnight Monday for fear of more clashes.

The Islamic activists have been holding protests to demand that the government implement an anti-blasphemy law. The government of the Muslim-majority nation has rejected the demand, insisting that Bangladesh is governed by secular law.

On Sunday, police fired rubber bullets to disperse stone-throwing activists who were among thousands who rallied around Dhaka. Officials said at least one person died and 45 others were injured.

The ruling Awami League and an opposition alliance had both planned rallies later Monday in response to Sunday's violence but postponed their plans.

Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 160 million people, has a history of political violence.

The opposition has sponsored a series of recent general strikes demanding that the next general election due in early 2014 be supervised by a neutral caretaker administration.

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