DHAKA, Bangladesh — The government of Bangladesh placed the country's two main opposition leaders under house arrest Wednesday as sporadic demonstrations continued against President Hussain Mohammed Ershad.
Mohammed Abdul Matin, the minister of home affairs, said the violence has spread from Dhaka, the capital, to other areas of the country. Protesters halted trains in Mymensingh and set fire to buildings in Chittagong. In Dhaka, the U.S. Information Agency's cultural center was gutted by fire.
"The optimism I had yesterday for all of this to end has fallen flat on the ground," Matin said.
But there were no additional reports of police gunfire. At least three people were killed Tuesday in Dhaka when policemen opened fire on demonstrators.
Early Wednesday, policemen broke into a suite in a Dhaka hotel and arrested Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladesh National Party. Zia refused to leave the hotel, and when the officers finally persuaded her to do so, she leaned out of an open window, her sari flapping in the breeze, and urged her followers in the street to carry on.
Shouts From Window
"The movement will continue!" she shouted from the window of a police car as she was driven away.
Hasina Wajed of the Awami League, the other important opposition group, was prevented from leaving her home to meet with the press.
"Stop this nonsense!" she shouted at police officers who told her she could not leave, then retreated back into the house.
Later, she appeared on a balcony and said: "We will continue until Ershad's fall. That day is not far. Don't worry, victory is ours."
Matin, the minister of home affairs, said the two women were placed under house arrest because on Tuesday they had led parades through the streets inciting their followers to violence. He said this violated a law against the assembly of more than five people.
"We are preventing her from doing prejudicial acts," Matin said, referring to Zia. "She had defied police orders."
Meanwhile, the opposition appeared to have achieved only partial success in calling for merchants and businessmen to shut down and for the operators of private transportation companies to suspend service. About one shop in five was open, and hundreds of pedicabs moved through the streets.
"By and large, the call for a general strike has failed," Matin said. He said that 83% of government employees were on the job and that more than 1,450 people had been arrested in connection with the so-called Siege of Dhaka.
Yet the opposition has not abandoned its effort to force President Ershad to resign. Spokesmen issued another call for a nationwide strike today.