- Associated Press - Monday, January 10, 2011

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh suspended trading at its main stock exchange Monday after a market plunge ignited protests by thousands of investors and security officials struck some with batons to disperse them.

The benchmark index rose 80 percent in 2010 but has fallen several times over the last few weeks. While its economy is growing, Bangladesh remains deeply impoverished and officials have said novice investors may not understand the nature of shares or how to evaluate quality.

Authorities struck some protesters with batons to try to keep the demonstrations from spreading, police official Mohammad Shohidullah said.

But protesters continued to demonstrate at several busy intersections in the commercial district, smashing vehicles, burning tires and chanting anti-government slogans.

Protester Mukul Ahmed said he lost $3,000 over the last three weeks. He invested all the money he has saved — about $7,500 — during his four years as a government official.

An APTN cameraman at the scene said he saw some protesters injured as police swooped in to stop protesters from using loudspeakers.

Mr. Shohidullah would not say whether any security officials were injured.

By Monday evening, the protests had ended and the situation was back to normal in the business district where the stock exchange is located.

Trading at the Dhaka exchange and in Chittagong, the second-largest city, was suspended until further notice, a government website said. And its Securities and Exchange Commission held an emergency meeting with merchant bankers and institutional stockbrokers to decide what actions to take to save the market from further falls.

The trading suspension came after the benchmark Dhaka Stock Exchange general index (DGEN) tumbled 7.8 percent Sunday and 9 percent in early trading Monday.

Bangladesh’s economy has grown by nearly 6 percent in each of the last few years. Per capita income in the nation of 150 million people crossed the $700 mark last year.

The government has said many first-time investors invested in the market without understanding the nature of shares, while experts say the number of shares has not increased in accordance with the number of investors.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s central bank has put limits on banks’ stock market investments — a measure that has forced many banks and other financial institutions to withdraw from the market.