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 Sunday, 8 December, 2002, 07:33 GMT
Arrests follow Bangladesh blasts
Soldiers inspect a bombed theatre in Mymensingh
The cinemas were packed with about 2,000 people
Police in Bangladesh have arrested a number of people following bomb explosions that left at least 17 dead and more than 200 injured.

They include an aide to the country's main opposition leader and a prominent writer, although police say they were not directly linked to the attacks.

Relative at hospital
The bombs were meant to cause maximum suffering
The explosions took place almost simultaneously at four cinemas in the densely populated town of Mymensingh, 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka.

A police spokesman said the Prime Minister, Begum Khalida Zia, would visit the injured in hospital on Sunday.

In September, at least two people died and 200 were hurt in bomb blasts at a cinema hall and circus in Satkhira, a district town nearly 180 km (112 miles) south of Dhaka. No-one admitted planting those devices.

Successive blasts

Although the devices were crude, this was a well-planned series of attacks which police say was calculated to cause the maximum number of deaths and injuries.

There were bodies lying in blood and many injured crying for help

Jahangir Alam, local journalist
The cinemas were packed with about 2,000 people who had gone to see Bengali films following the Eid al-Fitr holiday - the Muslim festival marking the end of the Ramadan month of fasting.

Police in Dhaka said on Sunday they had arrested Saber Hossain Choudhury, an aide to opposition Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina, and writer Muntasir Mamun.

They were detained for suspicious activities but were not directly linked to the bomb attacks, the police said.

There were also reports that more than 20 people, including some students, had been arrested in Mymensingh in connection with the blasts.

The first explosion came at the end of a show at the Ajanta theatre and killed two people instantly.

The others happened as shows were still going on.

People ran out of the cinemas screaming for help.

"I heard a big bang and then saw many people running for shelter," local journalist Jahangir Alam told the Associated Press news agency. "There were bodies lying in blood and many injured crying for help."

Trading accusations

The attacks are strikingly similar to the ones last September, when a crowded cinema hall and circus were hit on a Saturday evening.

Those attacks came amid controversy over claims that the country had become a safe haven for Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters.

Dhaka demonstrators burn Bush effigy
Bangladesh: Described as a "hot-bed of terrorism"
The government and the opposition accused each others' supporters of having been behind them.

The Awami League blamed the attack on a hardline Islamic group with links to the government.

Mr Chowdhury said there were "certain elements in Bangladeshi society, it may only be very small elements, who are sympathetic towards the Taleban".

Analysts said the Satkhira blasts, in turn, were very similar to attacks during the last year of the previous Awami League government.

Nearly 100 people were killed in a series of bomb attacks on open-air functions, public meetings and on a mosque and a church.

Sheikh Hasina, then prime minister, accused radical Muslim groups for the attacks.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Alastair Lawson
"Ministers say it was a ruthless crime which must have required much advance planning"
See also:

16 Oct 02 | South Asia
29 Sep 02 | South Asia
29 Sep 02 | South Asia
24 Oct 02 | South Asia
01 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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