Bangladesh crackdown on Opposition
Police stand guard in front of the headquarters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which says its top official is among those detained in a nationwide crackdown. AFP

Bangladesh police have arrested nearly 8,000 opposition figures in a nationwide crackdown since officers broke up a major rally in the capital a week ago, a report said Sunday.

The sweeping wave of detentions comes ahead of a general election due in January.

The country's major opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and its allies have been staging giant rallies in recent months demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down and allow a neutral government to supervise the vote.

Hasina has overseen impressive growth in her 15 years of power, but she has been accused of ruling the South Asian nation with an iron fist.

The United States has imposed sanctions on some of its most senior police figures for widespread human rights violations.

More than 100,000 opposition supporters joined a "grand rally" in central Dhaka last Saturday, when a policeman was killed in clashes.

Since then police have launched a widespread crackdown on the BNP, arresting thousands of activists and accusing at least 162 of its top leaders of murdering the officer.

The country's best-read and most respected newspaper Prothom Alo reported Sunday that at least 7,835 people had been held, based on reports from its correspondents across the country.

National police spokesman Abir Siddique Shuvra, could not give AFP an exact number of detentions, but said those arrested faced criminal cases and warrants.

"It is impossible to give an exact figure. Police are doing our regular work," he said.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police previously said that it had arrested more than 2,100 people over charges of violence since last Saturday.

According to the BNP, those detained include its top official in Bangladesh, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, and his number two Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury.

On Sunday the country's Rapid Action Battalion, arrested BNP vice president Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, a former home minister and air force chief.

The arrests came as BNP has enforced a new 48-hour long nationwide transport blockade as part of its new anti-government protests, bringing inter-city bus and lorry transport almost to a halt.

At least 11 buses were torched over the weekend, a fire service spokesman said.

Police say that as well as the officer, at least four people have been killed since last Saturday, while according to the BNP at least nine of its activists have died and more than 3,000 been injured.

The resurgent opposition has been mounting protests against Hasina since September last year, despite its ailing chairperson Khaleda Zia being effectively under house arrest since her release from prison after a conviction on corruption charges.

Hasina's ruling Awami League dominates the legislature in Bangladesh and runs it virtually as a rubber stamp.

Her security forces are accused of detaining tens of thousands of opposition activists, killing hundreds in extrajudicial encounters and disappearing hundreds of leaders and supporters.

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