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Five dead in weekend pre-election clashes

Bangladesh death toll rises as political tensions boil over

Five dead in weekend pre-election clashes

Violence flared in Dhaka and other cities over the weekend reporter, Dhaka

October 28, 2013

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At least five people were killed and dozens injured on Sunday as opposition supporters clashed with security forces and ruling party activists.

The death toll has reached 12 in the past three days during a strike by the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) as it calls for a non-party interim administration to oversee polls due by January.

The BNP-led 18-party opposition staged a large demonstration in Dhaka on Friday demanding that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and make way for an independent body, as used in the past four general elections but scrapped by the Awami League in 2011.

In Dhaka, schools and businesses remained closed to avoid violent confrontations, with the government deploying thousands of police and paramilitary border guards countrywide.

“BNP supporters and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami smashed and torched several vehicles and detonated home-made bombs early on Sunday,” said Harun-ur-Rashid, assistant commissioner of Dhaka Police.

In Faridpur district, southwest of Dhaka, a BNP man died and six people were injured as security forces opened fire to disperse stone throwing protesters, local police said.

In Jessore, another southwestern district, an Awami League supporter was stabbed to death by Jamaat activists, said local police official Abdus Salek.

In her address to Friday’s rally, BNP chief Khaleda Zia branded the government “illegal” as she threatened countrywide strikes unless the ruling party begins talks over a neutral administration ahead of the polls, a proposal rejected by Zia on Saturday.

At least 150 have been killed in political violence in Bangladesh since January when a tribunal investigating the country’s 1971 war of independence sentenced several leaders of Jamaat, a long time ally of the BNP.

Earlier this month, a BNP leader fueled tensions after he asked protesters to arm themselves with machetes and axes, which prompted police to ban all political rallies in major cities.

Many Bangladeshis fear that the current situation could lead to a repeat of the political turmoil of 2006 when the military cancelled elections following prolonged political clashes. This led to the installation of an army-back government as leaders of the major parties - including Hasina and Zia - were jailed.

Prominent jurist and constitutional lawyer Rafique-ul-Haque called on both sides to defuse Bangladesh’s latest political crisis.

“Apparently, it seems there is no way out except street violence. But both the parties know well what can happen if they don’t reconcile,” he said. “It should force them to initiate talks.”

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