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Death toll in Bangladesh 'anti-drugs' crackdown rises above 50

© AFP/File | The elite Rapid Action Battalion police unit is spearheading Bangladesh's anti-drugs crackdown, which has drawn criticism from rights groups

DHAKA (AFP) - 

Shootouts across Bangladesh left nine alleged drug dealers dead Thursday, police said, as authorities stepped up a crackdown that now has claimed at least 52 lives in 10 days and drawn criticism from rights groups.

The campaign comes as Bangladesh struggles to contain a surging drugs trade, particularly in methamphetamine pills known as "yaba".

However, human rights groups say many of the deaths are the result of extra-judicial killings.

Two of the nine were killed in gun battles between rival drug dealers in Magura, district police chief Ilias Hossain told AFP.

Four people died in southeastern Feni and Comilla and a further three were killed elsewhere, officials said.

In Chittagong on Wednesday a son and a daughter held a press conference to accuse the elite Rapid Action Battalion police unit of killing their father.

The unit -- which authorities say has so far killed 19 drug dealers during the crackdown -- has denied the allegations, but the campaign has caused widespread disquiet.

Even the state-run National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) this week expressed "grave concern" at the anti-drug drive, saying it does not support "any extra-judicial killings".

Huge numbers of the "yaba" pills have crossed into Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar, a major producer. Authorities last year seized a record 40 million pills but said an estimated 250-300 million others entered the market.

© 2018 AFP