DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Police fired guns and used batons on crowds of stone-throwing opposition activists in several Bangladeshi towns Sunday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 100, a news report and doctors at two hospitals said.
The opposition party said 1,200 of its activists were arrested, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.
The main Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its key Islamist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, are demanding an independent caretaker government oversee elections. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina scrapped the 15-year-old system last year, saying it contradicted the constitution.
The opposition, led by Mrs. Hasina's archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, says elections will be rigged if held under the current government and without a caretaker system in place.
Clashes during Sunday's nationwide protests were reported in about a dozen towns, Desh television station said.
Two men died from bullet wounds at a government hospital in the eastern town of Chandpur, physician Mahmudunnabi told the Associated Press by phone.
They were shot by police who fired at a procession of protesters trying to march forward by breaking a police barricade, the United News of Bangladesh agency said.
Separately, a youth died and four people with bullet wounds were being treated at a government hospital in Laxmipur, another eastern town, said Dr. Mohammad Nizam Uddin.
The identities of the dead were not immediately clear. Mr. Zia's party claimed one was a party activist while media reports said two others were rickshaw pullers.
Hasan Mahmud Khandaker, the country's police chief, said authorities would investigate the violence to determine what actually happened.
Police arrested about 1,200 activists, opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said. The figure could not be confirmed immediately.
The South Asian nation's politics has became tense recently as the opposition geared up its anti-government protests targeting the next general election due in 2014.
Mrs. Hasina's government is also at loggerheads with Mr. Zia and the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, over its effort to try suspected war criminals involving the 1971 independence war against Pakistan.
Five top officials and a former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami facing charges of war crimes are currently behind bars for their alleged role in the nine-month war in which the government said at least 3 million people were killed by the Pakistani army in collaboration with the suspects. Two others of Mr. Zia's party also face similar charges of crimes against humanity that include killing, rape and arson.
Mr. Zia and the Jamaat-e-Islami have rejected the trial and said it is politically motivated to eliminate the opposition.
The opposition parties also have held several general strikes in recent months.
Violent protests are common opposition tactics to embarrass the government in Bangladesh, a fragile parliamentary democracy that has a history of two successful and 19 failed military coups since 1971, when the country won independence from Pakistan.
On Jan. 19, the Bangladesh military said it foiled a plot by a group of hard-line officers, their retired colleagues and Bangladeshi conspirators living abroad to overthrow Mrs. Hasina.