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Police in Bangladesh clash with protesters enforcing strike over politician's disappearance
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) ' Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at stone-throwing opposition supporters enforcing a strike on Sunday to protest a politician's disappearance, leaving dozens injured, police said.
The clashes happened in the northeastern city of Sylhet, the hometown of Elias Ali, who heads the local branch of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and who went missing on Tuesday. His party has blamed security agencies and the government for his disappearance, and an 18-party opposition alliance enforced a daylong nationwide strike to pressure the government to find him.
The government has denied their claim, accusing his party of hiding him in order to create anarchy in the country.
Clashes and arrests were also reported in several other cities and towns during the strike that shut down shops, businesses and schools in many areas on Sunday, a working day in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
Later on Sunday, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a close aide of opposition leader Khaleda Zia, told a news conference they were extending the strike to Monday. He threatened more anti-government protests if Ali is not found.
In Sylhet, police used tear gas, fired rubber bullets and charged with batons to disperse several hundred stone-throwing protesters, local police chief Sakhawat Hossain said.
He said dozens were injured, including seven police officers. Police arrested 38 opposition activists in Sylhet, 190 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of the capital, Dhaka.
In Dhaka, traffic was thin on the usually clogged streets amid tight security, with several thousand police deployed across the city of 10 million people.
Several homemade bombs exploded in parts of Dhaka, but no injuries were immediately reported.
On Saturday, unidentified arsonists set fire to at least five buses in Dhaka ahead of the strike, killing one driver who had been asleep inside his vehicle.
Ali's wife said he went missing along with his driver on Tuesday night after leaving their home in Dhaka. His car was found by residents on a street early Wednesday, abandoned and with its doors open.
Ali's disappearance has further complicated Bangladesh's politics. Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party has been holding anti-government protests for months to demand an independent caretaker government oversee elections. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government scrapped the 15-year-old system last year, saying it contradicted the constitution.
The opposition says elections will be rigged if held under the current government.
General strikes are commonly used by the opposition in Bangladesh to embarrass the government.