February 25, 2009 / 6:04 AM / 11 years ago

At least 1 dead, 9 wounded in Dhaka fighting

(Updates casualties, adds details, comments)

By Anis Ahmed

DHAKA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Heavy gunfire raged through the headquarters of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in Dhaka on Wednesday, and at least one person was killed and nine others wounded, witnesses and hospital staff told Reuters.

Bangladesh, an impoverished South Asian country of more than 140 million, has experienced several successful and failed military coups in its history, but the motives behind Wednesday’s incident were not immediately clear.

The mutiny came a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met senior BDR officers at an annual parade and assured them her government would do its best to modernise the paramilitary and reward good performers.

Security and civil officials said they still did not know the exact reason for the fighting, which started while BDR officers and soldiers were meeting.

A defence analyst told Reuters: "Intelligence agencies must intensify their efforts to get to the bottom of the unrest and the government to rectify any lapses."

"Otherwise, the rebellion might cause a chain effect," retired Brigadier General Shahedul Anam Khan added, as various sources said a red alert has been ordered in other BDR complexes around the country.

The BDR, whose main duty is guarding the country’s borders, are often called in to back up the army and police to meet other defence and security requirements.

Witnesses said army troops entered the BDR headquarters and also took up positions in nearby areas as a military helicopter hovered overhead.

"We cannot really get close to the scene but saw army troops crawling towards the headquarters and urging people" to leave the area and stay calm, a Reuters television cameraman said.

A doctor at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said it had received one civilian dead from the fighting and six people wounded, including one BDR member.

Other hospital staff put the number of wounded at nine, while private television said scores of civilians were injured by stray bullets on the streets as they ran for cover.

Flames rose from the complex and big blasts were heard. Thick smoke filled the areas around the BDR complex, television broadcasts showed.

"They are firing rifles, machineguns, artillery and all sorts of weapons," one police officer near the scene said. The BDR complex also houses a school where many students have been confined, anxious guardians told reporters.

The defence ministry’s media wing issued an appeal to the violent soldiers to put down their guns.

"Please end the indiscipline and violent activities immediately, drop your guns and return to the barracks," it said.

"Prime Minister (Hasina) will herself listen to your demands and meet them as much possible," it added, without saying what the demands are.

"You please resume order, end violence and desist from destructive activities. Otherwise you will face (punitive) actions," it added.

"There were no instances that BDR had previous taken up arms to realise their demands. So (government) must think why it has happened now," said retired Major General Azizur Rahman, a former BDR chief.

Prime Minister Hasina’s party won election in December and took over from a military-backed interim government, with hopes high the country, with a long record of political violence, was moving toward democracy and stability. (Additional reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir, Nizam Ahmed, Ruma Paul and Azad Majumder; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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