Bangladesh goes to polls Sunday amid boycott call, violence (Roundup)

Dhaka/New Delhi, Jan 4: Bangladesh goes to the polls Sunday amid a boycott call by the main opposition BNP and widespread violence that saw nearly 70 polling booths burnt down, buses and trucks torched, and a petrol bomb hurled on a train by opposition activists Saturday.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former prime minister Khaleda Zia has termed the polls farcical and accused the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina of pushing the country towards “a civil war”.

BNP vice chairman Tarique Rahman, Zia’s son, in a video message from London, Saturday urged people of the country to resist the election at any cost.Zia had made a similar call for boycotting the election on Thursday.

The 10th parliamentary elections are mired in controversy. With the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance not participating, the polls will be held in just 147 out of 300 seats in 59 out of 64 districts of the country.

Zia, addressing a press briefing at her Gulshan residence Saturday afternoon, urged people to boycott the polls. The opposition alliance has warned that the government will be responsible for any untoward incident if it did not cancel Sunday’s elections.

Nearly 70 polling booths were burnt, according to reports. Unidentified assailants torched 38 polling centres in at least 28 districts including the capital Dhaka, Saturday. Similar violence was reported from other places, including Rajshahi, Manikganj, Bagerhat, Kushtia and Barisal.

In other instances of poll-related violence, opposition activists torched ballot papers and other materials for a polling centre in Sadullahpur upazila of Gaibandha.

At least 12 passengers of the Ekota Express were injured when BNP activists set fire to a compartment, hurling a petrol bomb on it, in Natore Railway Station Saturday.

Several trucks and buses were gutted in the violence as two more people were killed on the eve of elections.

The BNP called a 48-hour strike from Saturday morning.

Saturday’s strike is the latest in a string of protests by the BNP and its allies, including the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, that has seen blockade of roads and railways and closure of shops, schools and offices across Bangladesh since the past few months.

The BNP has refused to participate in the poll unless it is held under a neutral government. Due to the boycott, 153 of the 300 seats have already been “filled” as there is only one candidate. Polling will take place in the remaining 147 seats.

India’s external affairs spokesperson has earlier said that India wishes that Bangladesh overcomes its differences “to be able to resolve their differences in a manner which is peaceful, which is done through dialogue, through discussion. And the outcome should be such that is acceptable to all the people of Bangladesh”.

He said: “We do not have any intention to interfere in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. But as a friendly neighbour and as a well wisher, we do hope that the people of Bangladesh and their leaders can arrive at solutions and at outcomes which enable the people here who are living in Bangladesh to realise their aspirations.”

India is hoping the attempt to subvert the elections will be contained, said sources. As a neighbouring country, India is very keen that there is peace and stability in Bangladesh, the sources said.The Border Security Force is keeping maximum alert along the border in view of the heightened violence in Bangladesh.

IANS