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Bangladesh announces polls despite boycott threat

Updated at: 11/25/2013 10:05 AM
By FARID HOSSAIN

(AP) DHAKA, Bangladesh - Bangladesh’s government announced Monday that it will hold parliamentary elections on Jan. 5 despite a boycott threat by opposition parties.

Soon after the televised announcement, several homemade bombs exploded in central Dhaka. No injuries were reported.

The main opposition coalition has vowed to hold a series of nationwide protests unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina resigns and transfers power to a non-partisan caretaker administration to oversee the elections. Hasina has rejected the demand.

Instead, earlier this month Hasina formed what she calls an all-party election-time government to oversee the polls. Her new 29-member Cabinet includes members of her Awami League party and five other parties, all of them her allies.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad announced the election date on Monday, saying the commission will do everything possible to ensure peaceful, free and fair elections.

"Army troops will be deployed to assist the law enforcement agencies so people can vote freely," he said.

Ahmad said he still hopes the opposition will participate. The main opposition coalition, however, rejected the date and demanded that it be withdrawn.

"We will not accept any farce in the name of elections," opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told a news conference.

Alamgir said the opposition will blockade roads, railways and waterways for 48 hours starting at dawn Tuesday.

The Home Ministry said paramilitary border guards have been deployed in Dhaka and several other key cities to help law enforcement agencies prevent any possible violence.

The opposition alliance, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has staged a series of general strikes to press for Hasina’s resignation before the elections. More than 30 people have died in violence during the protests over about three weeks.

Zia says the polls could be rigged if Hasina stays in office. Hasina has denied the allegation.

The South Asian nation of 160 million people has a history of political violence. It has witnessed the assassinations of two presidents and 19 failed coup attempts since its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Before independence Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)