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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 16:37 GMT
Rickshaw riots in Bangladesh
Rickshaws in Dhaka
Most rickshaw pullers refused to back baby taxi drivers
By the BBC's Alistair Lawson in Dhaka

There have been violent clashes between striking auto-rickshaw drivers and non-motorised rickshaw riders in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

About 50 people were injured in the fighting and about 100 rickshaws damaged.

Three wheeler taxi in Dhaka
The government wants to halve the number of baby taxis
The drivers of auto-rickshaws - also known as baby taxis - are protesting over government plans to phase out about half the city's 50,000 vehicles to cut pollution.

They are angry that only a small number of Dhaka's 300,000 rickshaw pullers have supported them in the strike.

The violence reflects the intense frustration among Dhaka's auto-rickshaw drivers over the government's plans to halve the number of their vehicles allowed on the streets.

Fuel crisis fears

Their strike is indefinite, and next week, they will be supported by many of the country's lorry drivers who will also go on strike.

That raises the prospect of Bangladeshi petrol stations running out of fuel.

The baby taxi drivers want bicycle rickshaw pullers to support them in their campaign, but so far, most rickshaw pullers have refused to do so.

Police say that fighting between the two groups broke out when the baby taxi drivers tried to force the rickshaw pullers to join the protest.

Pollution

The roads of Dhaka were remarkably uncongested on Thursday because of the strike.

It now looks as if there will be a long stand-off between the two opposing parties. The government says that it is willing to negotiate, but will not back down in its pledge to drastically reduce the number of pollution-emitting baby taxis on the streets.

The Environment Minister, Shajahan Siraj, said many of the vehicles were not properly licensed and that he wanted to see all three-wheelers that run a mixture of petrol and oil to be taken off the streets.

Mr Siraj said they will be replaced by three-wheelers which either run on compressed natural gas or petrol.

Job losses

But the baby taxi drivers say that they are being unfairly victimised and that they are not receiving enough compensation from the government.

They say that two people lose jobs for every baby taxi that is taken off the streets, because the vehicles are driven on a shift basis over a 24-hour period.

The drivers have warned that they will stop all vehicles from operating on Dhaka's roads if the government does not back down.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alaistair Lawson
"The government sees baby taxis as major contributors towards Dhaka's pollution problems."
See also:

20 Jul 98 | South Asia
Does Dhaka need rickshaws?
09 Oct 98 | South Asia
Delhi chokes under pollution
02 Oct 98 | South Asia
The 'phat-phats' are no more
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