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Asia-pacific

Gun battles resume as mutiny spreads beyond capital

Video by Clovis CASALI

Latest update : 2009-02-26

Heavy gunfire has resumed at the headquarters of Bangladesh's border security force in Dhaka, where troops have mutinied against their officers, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Police say the revolt has spread to camps outside the capital.

AFP  - Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned thousands of mutinous border guards Thursday to surrender immediately or face "tough action" as their revolt spread outside the capital Dhaka.
   
In a televised address to the nation, Sheikh Hasina, who took office less than two months ago, told the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) guards they were on a "suicidal route" with an uprising that officials say may have already cost 50 lives.
   
"Just give up your arms and return to barracks right now," she said. "Don't take the suicidal route. Don't compel me to take tough action. We are aware of your problems. Please help us."
   
Officials said tensions in the BDR had been simmering for months but exploded into violence when senior officers dismissed appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.
   
Shortly after Sheikh Hasina's address, the army positioned tanks and armoured personnel carriers close to the BDR headquarters in Dhaka, where the mutiny began early Wednesday.
   
A military spokesman described the deployment as "a deterrent in an emergency situation."
   
The prime minister's warning came as the revolt spread Thursday to a number of other BDR posts outside the capital.
   
Police chiefs across the poor and chronically unstable South Asian nation said rank-and-file BDR members had revolted in 15 border districts -- roughly a quarter of the zones where border security forces are stationed.
   
"They are firing indiscriminately," said one of the police chiefs, from the northeastern Moulivibazar district. "Their commanding officer told me that he has fled the camp."
   
Police chief Kamrul Ahsan, from the southeastern town of Satkania, reported "heavy fighting" at a BDR training centre.
   
In an effort to stem any further spread, the Bangladesh telecoms authority ordered all the country's six mobile operators to shut down their networks.
   
In Dhaka, the initial mutiny had appeared to be petering out following the earlier offer of an amnesty, but fresh, heavy gunfire erupted on Thursday and sent thousands of people around the BDR headquarters running for cover.
   
However, the mutineers did free around 50 hostages -- including two Chinese nationals -- and Home Minister Sahara Khatun told a local television station that many guards had surrendered following the prime minister's address.
   
Deputy law minister Kamrul Islam said at least 50 officers held hostage were feared dead.
   
So far, a total of 11 people have been confirmed killed and dozens more wounded.
   
Sheikh Hasina had made her amnesty offer on Wednesday and also promised to address complaints over low pay and working conditions.
   
The unrest is the first major crisis to face Hasina since she took office after a landslide election victory that ended two years of army-backed rule.
   
"Keep the peace and stay patient for the sake of the nation. I urge everyone to be patient. I seek cooperation of all," she said in her televised address.
   
The stand-off highlights the frustrations felt by many in the impoverished nation, which suffers from high food prices, a slowing economy and rampant corruption within the ruling classes.
   
Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.
   
The country was run by a military dictator from 1982 to 1990, before democracy was restored in 1991. In January 2007 the army again stepped in, cancelled elections and declared a state of emergency following months of political unrest.
   
Democracy was only restored with elections last December.

Date created : 2009-02-26

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