At least three people were killed and dozens injured in Bangladesh on Friday when security officials clashed with opposition supporters trying to defy a ban on protests, just two days before a planned national general strike.
Security officials in the southern coastal district of Cox's Bazar opened fire, killing two people, when opposition supporters attacked police and paramilitary border guards with sticks and firearms, ignoring a ban on rallies in the area, local police official Ranjit Kumar Barua said by phone. At least 15 people were injured in the violence, he said.
"We had no other way but to open fire," he said, adding that one of the dead was an opposition member and the second was a shopkeeper.
Several television channels reported that a man died in the central district of Chandpur when police and ruling Awami League supporters clashed with opposition supporters. At least 30 people were injured in the clash in the area, which is 64 kilometers (40 miles) east of the capital, Dhaka, the stations said.
The violence also spread to the eastern district of Comilla, where at least 20 people were injured. Comilla is 88 kilometers (55 miles) east of Dhaka.
Similar violence was also reported in Bangladesh's second-largest city, Chittagong, which is in the southeast.
In Dhaka, opposition supporters allegedly set fire to a car and a bus, but no injuries were reported.
The government has banned rallies in some parts of the country, fearing violence as the opposition gears up for street protests. Authorities deployed paramilitary border guards in Dhaka and other cities and towns to aid police in maintaining order.
The violence came as opposition leader Khaleda Zia said Friday that she and her allies would stage a three-day general strike across the country beginning Sunday morning to back demands for a caretaker government made up of people from outside political parties to oversee elections that are due by early January.
Zia told a huge rally that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had two days to agree to the demand, otherwise more protests will be announced. Street protests in Bangladesh often turn violent.
Hasina recently proposed establishing an all-party government with herself as the leader to oversee the elections, but Zia, a former prime minister, rejected that.
Hasina offered to hold talks in line with her proposal, but Zia refused.
Such a caretaker government has been used in the past, but Hasina's government scrapped the provision in 2011, citing a Supreme Court ruling saying the provision was unconstitutional. But the opposition says the dropping of the system makes it easier to rig the election a charge denied by the government.
A senior ruling party leader, Mohammad Nasim, criticized Zia, saying she has picked a "path of confrontation, not of dialogue." He also urged Zia to agree to Hasina's proposal.
Bangladesh has had a parliamentary democracy since Hasina and Zia together threw former military dictator H.M. Ershad out of power in 1990, but peaceful transfers of power have remained a big issue.