DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh's paramilitary troops will shoot protesters who throw fire bombs, the chief of the force said on Thursday, to rein in violence over last year's disputed elections that has killed 24 people.
The move followed the seventh arson-related death in two days in the latest standoff between political opponents Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia.
"We will use firearms on petrol bomb carriers, if we see they are throwing them, to prevent further casualties," Aziz Ahmed, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh, told reporters.
Opposition activists staged a day-long protest strike, setting fire to vehicles and letting off crude bombs across Bangladesh, police and witnesses said.
The protest was a response to an attack on Riaz Rahman, an adviser to Khaleda and a former junior minister for foreign affairs, who was shot and injured on Tuesday, sparking international condemnation.
Khaleda, whose Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted last year's vote, has demanded that Hasina and her government step down for a new vote held under a neutral administration.
Hasina has refused, instead tightening her government's grip by arresting key opposition leaders and clamping down on media as anti-government protests have erupted.
Khaleda and Hasina have alternately been prime minister for most of the last 23 years, a long and bitter rivalry marked by periods of widespread political violence.
Thousands of paramilitary troops have fanned out across the country.
Outside the capital, Dhaka, a private bus company employee died early on Thursday after unidentified attackers set a bus on fire, while hospital doctors said a car driver died following injuries suffered in a petrol bomb attack last Friday.
Two crude bombs went off in the premises of the chief metropolitan magistrate's court. They caused no injuries, but spread panic in the area, witnesses said.
The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union have expressed concerned over the violence, and urged all political parties to hold talks.
"Actions to restore peace and stability should not be at the expense of freedoms of assembly, movement and speech," the Heads of Mission of the European Union resident in Bangladesh said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Krista Mahr