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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK

World: South Asia

Bangladesh police arrest 15,000

US said government appeared to be losing control of police

By David Chazan in Dhaka

Police in Bangladesh have arrested nearly 15,000 people, and seized more than 200 illegal guns in the past two weeks, in an effort to combat violent crime.

The operation follows criticism by Bangladesh's international aid donors, who complained that law and order was deteriorating, while the police seemed to be making the problem worse.

Hundreds of people are being rounded up each day in a military-style operation against criminals, and outlawed extremist political groups.

Losing control

There has been enormous public pressure on the government to halt what is being seen as a slide into lawlessness.

The United States said the government appeared to be losing control over the police, who have been accused of involvement in crime themselves.

A new home minister was appointed and he has taken personal command of the operation against crime, particularly in southern Bangladesh.

Residents in the south say extortion and racketeering, both by gangsters and by banned left-wing political parties, have reached nightmarish proportions. In border areas, they say criminals can easily escape into India.

'Going too far'

Police say they have set up 250 makeshift camps for the security operation.

One of the latest suspects arrested is accused of killing an associate of the prime minister in an attack on a political rally in February.

But relatively few of those arrested are accused of politically-motivated crimes. And human rights activists fear the police may be going too far.

They say members of the governing party have also been implicated in violence, including a member of parliament accused of making bombs at home.

And they say similar police round-ups in the past have failed to improve law and order.

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