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Bangladesh Cops, Prostitutes Clash

July 27, 1999

KASIMPUR, Bangladesh (AP) _ Prostitutes who were rounded up by Bangladeshi police and placed in a state-run home for destitute women went on a hunger strike today after clashes with police and staff members.

Early Saturday, police raided the Tanbazar red-light district outside the capital of Dhaka after about 3,000 women refused to quit prostitution and take government-sponsored jobs.

About 300 women were taken to Kasimpur, a state complex surrounded by 10-foot-high walls and barbed wire, 20 miles north of Dhaka.

Angry prostitutes armed with firewood and bricks smashed windows at the center Monday and attacked police, witnesses said. Police and staff reportedly kicked and beat the protesters.

The violence left at least 50 people injured, most of them prostitutes, local residents said.

``We heard the women screaming and saw police beating them with batons,″ said local farmer Abdul Jabbar.

Guards refused to allow journalists into the complex.

Three prostitutes climbed a tree inside the complex Tuesday, and shouted to reporters outside that they had stopped eating and drinking in protest. ``We want to get out of this hell,″ one of them yelled.

The women were soon grabbed by security forces.

Dozens of Bangladeshi human rights groups have denounced the eviction of the prostitutes, all of whom were legally registered to work in the sex trade.

``This is nothing but barbarism of the medieval age,″ said Kazi Abdur Razzak, head of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights.

Human rights groups also accuse police of violence and looting during the three-hour raid Saturday at the dilapidated brothels of Tanbazar.

Prostitution is frowned upon in Bangladesh, a conservative Islamic society. But women above the age of 16 can take up prostitution if they show that it is their only means of support. Bangladesh has an estimated 100,000 prostitutes.

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