DHAKA: Bangladeshi opposition parties have called a two-day nationwide shutdown from Wednesday to protest what they describe as the “mass killing” of Islamists in a crackdown by security forces.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies called the strike after saying that hundreds of people were killed on Sunday and early Monday, when police broke up a mass rally in central Dhaka.

According to an AFP tally compiled after talking to police and medical sources, 38 people are known to have been killed since Sunday afternoon when police first confronted Islamist activists who had blockaded the capital.

A border guard succumbed to his head injuries Tuesday to raise the tally from Monday’s 37, police inspector Mozammel Haq told AFP, adding dozens were still being treated in hospital.

The country’s most prominent daily Prothom Alo said at least 49 people have died in the clashes, some of the fiercest street violence in decades.

However the BNP says the real number of dead runs into the “hundreds”, accusing the authorities of concealing bodies but without giving any evidence.

“We have called two days of nationwide strike to protest the mass killing of Hefajat-e-Islam workers and supporters on Sunday and Monday,” BNP spokesman Khandaker Mosharraf told AFP on Tuesday.

The strike would begin at 6:00 am on Wednesday and end at 6:00 pm on Thursday, Mosharraf added.

Police on Tuesday announced charges against 194 activists of the Hefajat-e-Islam (Protectorate of Islam), a hardline Islamic group behind the massive protests.

Its secretary general Junayed Babu Nagori, who was detained on Monday night, faces murder charge, police sub-inspector Tabibur Rahamn told AFP.

Hefajat’s main leader 90-year-old Allama Ahmad Shafi was put on a plane to the country’s second city Chittagong on Monday where his supporters clashed with police, leaving at least five people dead.

Chanting “Atheists must be hanged”, Hefajat activists marched along at least six highways on Sunday, effectively cutting Dhaka off from the rest of the country.

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