20 hurt in Chittagong port violence

13 October 2010,

Bangladeshi police opened fire with tear gas shells and rubber bullets in the country’s main port of Chittagong on Wednesday after striking dock workers stopped work and went on the rampage, officials said.

At least 20 people were wounded in clashes as thousands of dockers fought with port guards and attacked vehicles, prompting the government to call in the army to reinforce the police.

Authorities imposed a ban on assembly of more than five people at the port until further notice as the strike paralysed the external trade hub for a second day.

The workers went on strike after around 1,500 casual dockers lost their jobs when the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) handed over container and bulk operations to private berth operators.

“They (troops) have started arriving and will be fully deployed across the port by Wednesday midnight,” Syed Farhaduddin, a senior official of the CPA, said.

“We hope the situation will be normal by (Thursday) morning.”

The CPA has been handling cargo itself since May, when it decided not to renew the contracts of the previous berth operators due to a legal dispute.

Average turnaround times for ships have risen from one-and-a-half days to seven days since May, as a result of which traders fear a slump in external trade for the current fiscal year to June 2011.

The port handled some 37 million tonnes of cargo, more than 80 percent of the country’s external trade, in 2009-10 (July-June), 21.39 per cent up from the previous fiscal year.

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