Four killed as Bangladesh arrests pro-opposition editor

At least four people were killed and scores injured on Thursday as clashes erupted in parts of Bangladesh on the fourth day of a nationwide strike called by an Islamist opposition party, police said.

The violence came as police arrested the editor of an influential pro-opposition newspaper after he was accused of sedition and inciting religious tension in the Muslim-majority nation.

The arrest follows a nationwide crackdown on the opposition including the detention of more than 200 senior officials of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the entire leadership of the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami.

Police said three people were beaten to death in Buzpur town in southeastern Chittagong district in violence between supporters of the ruling Awami League (AL) party and the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami.

In another wave of clashes in the southern district of Khulna, a protester from Jamaat was shot dead and 20 hit by bullets after police opened fire at 500 of its supporters during the strike.

The violence is the latest to hit Bangladesh, stemming from a continuing war crimes tribunal at which almost the entire Jamaat leadership is in the dock for crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

The latest killings brought the overall death toll from clashes triggered by the trials to 101 since January 21 when the court handed down its first verdicts.

"Three men were beaten to death by Jamaat supporters. Two died on the spot and a third died in a hospital. They are Awami League activists," police sub-inspector Jahirul Islam told AFP.

The clashes between some 1,200 secular AL supporters and several thousand Jamaat supporters were triggered by rumours that the former were going to attack local Islamic seminaries, he said.

Jamaat called Thursday's strike to demand the release of the head of its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir.

Police in Khulna opened fire after coming under attack from protesters who fired guns and hurled small bombs at the law-enforcers. A Jamaat man died after he was hit with a bullet in the chest, police officer Kazi Abu Salek told AFP.

The war crimes trials have plunged the impoverished country into one of its most turbulent chapters since independence. Analysts fear lasting damage to the fabric of the world's eighth-most populous country.

Meanwhile, police said Mahmudur Rahman, 59, the editor of Bengali daily Amar Desh, was arrested at his newspaper office and remanded for 13 days in police custody for interrogation.

"We have arrested him in a case filed against him in December," Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP, adding he was also accused of publishing false and derogatory information that incited religious tension.

The December case against Rahman was related to hacking and the publishing of leaked calls between a judge from the country's controversial war crimes tribunal and an expatriate legal expert, he added.

The BNP, its Islamist allies and journalist unions condemned the arrest and demanded Rahman's immediate release. Hundreds of Islamists rallied in Chittagong, calling Rahman "a true soldier of Islam".