Dozens of people including a senior opposition figure were injured during violent protests in Bangladesh on Wednesday as an anti-government strike shut down the country for the second time in four days.
Joynal Abedin Faruk, chief whip of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), sustained serious head injuries during clashes with police and was admitted to the intensive care unit of a Dhaka hospital, medical staff said.
Footage on the Bangla Vision TV channel showed a heavily bleeding Faruk being chased by baton-wielding riot police. City police chief Harunur Rashid said he had tried to vandalise a bus.
"Faruk was beaten by police with batons mercilessly as he was leading a peaceful protest of BNP parliamentarians," party spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said.
"Police arrested scores of our activists and used batons to disperse lawful protests," he added.
Police also clashed with protesters in other cities after the BNP and its Islamist allies enforced the strike to protest against changes in the electoral system that they say unfairly favour the government.
Dozens of vehicles were torched and damaged in Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong ahead of the 48-hour strike, and police said they had deployed 10,000 officers in the capital to prevent unrest.
"At least eight people have been jailed on the spot including one with a one-year term for holding unlawful protests and damaging vehicles," Dhaka police spokesman Masud Ahmed told AFP.
Home Minister Sahara Khatun warned the government would use a "strong arm" to deal with rowdy protesters.
Across the country, shops and businesses were closed, roads empty and transport between the capital and other cities cut from early morning. Cargo deliveries were also suspended at the country's main port in Chittagong.
"We baton-charged protesters after they became unruly and attacked us with bricks. Two people, including the area police chief, were injured," police inspector Humayun Kabir in Mirpur, a northern Dhaka suburb, told AFP.
In the northwestern city of Rajshahi, at least 10 people were injured as police clashed with protesters, police chief Obaidullah said, adding six opposition activists had been arrested.
Around 5,500 officers of the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion have also been deployed nationwide.
In 1996, the Bangladesh constitution was amended to appoint neutral caretaker administrations to oversee elections.
Although the system has delivered four fair elections in a country with a long history of political violence, it was scrapped last month after the government said it had allowed the army to take over power in January 2007.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia has said her right-of-centre party would not contest future polls unless the caretaker system is reintroduced.