Bangladesh police swung batons Saturday to disperse hundreds of activists protesting a government bid to evict opposition leader Khaleda Zia from the military-owned house she has lived in for nearly 30 years.
Television news showed opposition activists smashing vehicles on the streets of Dhaka while baton-wielding police chased them. Demonstrators also set fire to a bus. It was not immediately clear whether there were any injuries.
The clashes were the latest sign of the bitter rivalry between the two major parties — headed by former Prime Minister Zia and her archrival, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — as Bangladesh's democracy struggles to return to normalcy following the restoration of an elected government in 2008 after nearly two years under a state of emergency.
Media reports and witnesses said a large number of security officials cordoned off the house inside the army headquarters' compound in Dhaka on Saturday, prompting the protests. Later Saturday, Zia left the home by car amid tight security and reached her office outside the cantonment, military officials said.
There were reports of opposition protests in other cities and towns across the country.
Zia has lived in the house since 1981 when her husband, former President Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated in a military coup.
The home was allotted to Zia on humanitarian grounds. She later entered politics and served as prime minister from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006.
Under Hasina's government, military authorities last year asked Zia to vacate the home, saying she violated the allotment conditions by conducting politics from inside a military area.
ATN News and Channel I reported police with batons charged activists from Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party after the protesters tried to enter the restricted military compound. Police also used batons to disperse protesters outside the party's headquarters in downtown Dhaka, witnesses said.
Bangla Vision TV said by Saturday afternoon the military removed 61 people from the house, but Zia stayed inside for a couple of hours with two domestic staff before heading to her office.
Her party said she would stay at her brother's home for the time being. It was not clear if she would accept the official residence reserved for the leader of the opposition.
Zia's close aide Khandaker Delwar Hossain called a dawn-to-dusk general strike across the country for Sunday to protest the government's move.
A statement from the military's public relations office said Zia was leaving the house "voluntarily" to show respect for a court order, but her party disputed the claim.
"This is not true. She is being evicted forcibly," Hossain told reporters.
Zia has filed a petition with the High Court challenging the military notice. The court dismissed her petition and gave her until Oct. 30 to vacate the house.
Zia has appealed that order, and the Supreme Court is to hear the case on Nov. 29.
(This version corrects last year sted this year in graf 8)
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