Death toll in Bangladesh anti-drugs crackdown rises above 50

The Rapid Action Battalion police unit is spearheading Bangladesh’s anti-drugs crackdown. (AFP pic)

MAGURA: Shootouts across Bangladesh left nine alleged drug dealers dead on Thursday, police said, as authorities stepped up a crackdown that now has claimed at least 52 lives in 10 days and drawn criticism from rights groups.

The campaign comes as Bangladesh struggles to contain a surging drugs trade, particularly in methamphetamine pills.

However, human rights groups say many of the deaths are the result of extra-judicial killings.

Two of the nine were killed in gun battles between rival drug dealers in Magura, Magura District police chief Ilias Hossain said.

Four people died in southeastern Feni and Comilla and a further three were killed elsewhere, officials said.

In Chittagong on Wednesday, a son and a daughter held a press conference to accuse the elite Rapid Action Battalion police unit of killing their father.

The unit, which authorities say has so far killed 19 drug dealers during the crackdown, has denied the allegations, but the campaign has caused widespread disquiet.

Even the state-run National Human Rights Commission this week expressed “grave concern” at the anti-drug drive, saying it does not support “any extra-judicial killings”.

Large quantities of the pills have crossed into Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar, a major producer. Authorities last year seized a record 40 million pills but said an estimated 250 to 300 million others entered the market.