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Two dead in new Bangladesh political clashes

Violence breaks out as government announces January elections

Two dead in new Bangladesh political clashes

Police stand guard in Dhaka following violence related to the election announcement reporter, Dhaka

November 26, 2013

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Bomb blasts, vandalism and arson erupted across Bangladesh on Monday, leaving two people dead and dozens injured after the opposition rejected government plans to hold a general election in early January.

In Comilla district, south of Dhaka, a student named Delwar Hossain died after protesters hurled home made bombs at police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear-gas.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) claimed Hossain was a BNP supporter who was killed by police fire. However, local police officials said the victim was killed in a bombing and was not involved in politics.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday evening, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed announced the tenth parliamentary polls for the 300-seat Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly), and set the date for voting on January 5.

He urged all political parties to participate, assuring them the government would take all necessary measures to ensure a peaceful, free and fair election.

“Troops will be deployed to assist law enforcement agencies so that people can vote freely,” he said.

In response, however, the BNP demanded an immediate suspension of the poll date and called for a 48-hour nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways from dawn on Tuesday.

Acting BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam called the planned election a “farce”, saying the polls would not be free and fair with Awami League Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina still in power.

“We reject the election schedule. We ask that the election commission put it on hold until a political consensus on the election-time government is reached,” he told reporters in Dhaka. “We won’t take part in any farce in the name of elections.”

Soon after the poll announcement, hundreds of opposition supporters and their allies from the hardline Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Party detonated dozens of home made bombs in Dhaka and several districts.

Protesters also smashed and set ablaze more than 50 vehicles in the capital and on major highways, leaving thousands of passengers stranded on the roads.

The government has deployed hundreds of law enforcers, including border guard troops, to quell further violence across the country.

A series of violent strikes and protests by the opposition have crippled Bangladesh in recent weeks as the country’s political standoff has escalated. More than 30 people have died and dozens have been wounded during street violence in the past month.

The BNP and other opposition parties have called for Hasina's government to relinquish power to a caretaker system used in the past four elections rather than a cabinet configured according to the parliamentary majority held by the ruling Awami League.

Hasina has rejected the call and earlier this month formed an all-party cabinet with members of the Awami League and five other allies to oversee the poll-time government.

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