Bangladesh deploys military as election nears

2013-12-26 12:20
Bangladeshi soldiers patrol a street during an ongoing blockade. (Munir Uz Zaman, AFP)

Bangladeshi soldiers patrol a street during an ongoing blockade. (Munir Uz Zaman, AFP)

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Dhaka - Tens of thousands of troops were to be deployed across Bangladesh on Thursday in a bid to contain deadly political violence ahead of elections which are being boycotted by the opposition.

With Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina determined that the 5 January general election goes ahead despite claims that it will be a farce, troops are being sent to nearly every corner of the country at the end of its deadliest year for political violence since independence.

The deployments are expected to further infuriate the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party which called for a mass march on the capital Dhaka beginning on 29 December in a bid to scupper the polls.

Election Commission spokesperson S Asaduzzaman said that troops would be deployed in at least 59 of the country's 64 districts.

"They'll be used as a striking force if there is any violence and they will patrol important areas, streets and highways," he told AFP.

While a small number of troops has already begun taking up positions, an army spokesperson confirmed the mass deployment would begin on Thursday.

Polarisation

He did not say how many troops will be deployed but local media put the number at around 50 000.

The BNP and its leader Zhaleda Zia have condemned the military deployment, saying it would pit the armed forces against the people.

The BNP is at the head of an 18-party opposition alliance which has refused to take part in the polls after Hasina blocked their demands to stand down and let a neutral caretaker government oversee the contest.

Two other left-wing parties have also pulled out of the election as has a faction led by former dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who had been an ally of Hasina's ruling Awami League.

The boycotts have highlighted the growing political polarisation in a country that won its independence from Pakistan in 1971.

While Bangladesh has had a deeply troubled history since independence, with more than a dozen coups, this year has been the bloodiest since it broke free from its former rulers in Islamabad.

Protests over the polls and over the death sentences handed down to Islamists convicted of war crime during the 1971 independence conflict have left at least 268 people dead since January.

Much of the violence has been blamed on supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamist party which has been barred from fielding candidates on 5 January.

Read more on:    sheikh hasina  |  bangladesh

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