DAKA, Feb. 6, Reuter: Police guarded streets and government buildings on Saturday as an opposition-led general strike gripped Dhaka and other cities across Bangladesh.

Twenty one opposition parties called the strike, the 21st since November 11, in a fresh attempt to force President Hossain Mohammad Ershad to resign.

The parties are also organizing a boycott of Parliamentary elections slated for March 3.

Dhaka streets were empty of traffic except for a few government buses, pedal rickshaws and vehicles carrying police.

On a road reserved for the President, ministers and senior officials, small boys played soccer and vendors sold junk foodstuff and toys.

Shops were mostly shuttered and school closed. Trains and river ferries were disrupted but Bangladesh Biman, the National airline, said it hoped to operate all scheduled flights although some might be delayed.

Some Dhaka residents celebrated the stoppage as a mandatory holiday, but others who worked had to walk miles to reach their offices.

Police said the city was by and large quiet in the first hours of the down to dusk strike but did not rule out the possibility of violence.

“We will maintain a tight vigil because violence usually starts in the afternoons”, one police officer guarding a street said.

Nearly 50 people were killed and hundreds arrested in clashes between police and opposition activists during the previous stoppages, which the government said, cost the country 50 million dollars in production and exports every day.

Ershad seized power in a bloodless coup in 1982 but re-established a fragile civil rule after disputed elections in 1986, He has said he will not resign under pressure kind has criticized strike promoters as enemies of the people trying to jeopardise the national economy.

Opposition leaders said overwhelming response to the strikes proved that people had no confidence in Ershad’s government.

“The stoppages are part of a national campaign to force the, authoritarian ruler (Ershad) to step down and hand over power to a caretaker government to ensure free and fair elections,” opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia told her supporters on Friday.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 12, 1988