Bangladesh burns on poll eve

Bangladesh burns on poll eve

Nearly 60 polling stations in Bangladesh were set ablaze and three people killed on the eve of Sunday's election, in which the ruling Awami League looks certain to prevail in a walkover as the main opposition party boycotts the poll.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called a 48-hour strike from Saturday morning and urged voters to stay away from the “farcical” election.

Traffic in Dhaka was lighter than normal for a Saturday although some shops were open.

Without the BNP's participation, fewer than half of 300 parliamentary constituencies are being contested.  “I call upon countrymen to fully boycott the disgraceful farce in the name of election of January 5,” said BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia in a statement on Friday.

She has been under what she calls virtual house arrest, but the government has denied that she is confined or under house arrest.

Caretaker government

The BNP is protesting against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s scrapping of the practice of having a caretaker government oversee elections, and many of its leaders are in jail or in hiding. The impasse unde­rmines the poll’s legitimacy and is fuelling worries of economic gridlock and further violence in the impoverished South Asian nation of 160 million.

The office of prime minister has been held by Hasina or Khaleda for all but two of the past 22 years, and the rivalry between them is bitter.

The Election Commission said nearly 60 polling stations had been set ablaze since Friday. The police said three people were killed early on Saturday in clashes in rural Bangladesh as violence flared after several days of relative calm.

At least 10 people were injured when BNP activists hurled bombs at a railway station and set on fire a train compartment in the northern town of Natore and two buses in the port city of Chittagong were set on fire, police said.

With more than 100 people killed in the run-up to the election, mainly in rural districts, fears of violence at polling stations were expected to keep many voters away.

The Election Commission sent a text message to voters saying their security was ensured and urging them to turn out.

Troops have been deployed since December 26 to maintain order during the election.

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