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Bangladesh police fire tear gas as energy hike protest turns violent

DHAKA Police in Bangladesh fired teargas and water cannon on Wednesday to disperse hundreds of demonstrators trying to besiege the energy ministry in a protest against an increase in gas prices.

Starting from this month, gas prices are to be raised by an average of 22.7 percent in two phases. It is the second such hike within two years, despite objections from political parties and industry, including the $28-billion garments export sector.

Activists of leftist political parties threw bricks and smashed vehicles as they tried to make their way towards the ministry, police said, compelling them to break up the protest.

Several policemen were injured but no arrests have been made, police official Abul Hasan told Reuters.

Protesters said about 50 activists were injured and some were arrested.

“Our protest was peaceful, but we are stunned by the police action,” Ruhin Hossain Prince, a leader of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, told reporters. “Many of our activists were arrested.”

Annual inflation in Bangladesh accelerated in February for the second straight month and could rise further, fuelled by a surge in the price of gas, widely used for cooking and operating vehicles.

The High Court has ordered a six-month stay on the second phase of the gas price increase from June, following a petition by a consumer rights group.

The government also plans to raise electricity tariffs, in a bid to cut subsidies, likely to further aggravate worries about the cost of living in the impoverished country of 160 million.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)