The home ministry issued a decree to district administrations saying: "The government has decided to deploy the army to assist civil administration in the wake of the current law and order situation in the country."

Iajuddin Ahmed, the president, met army commanders in the capital, Dhaka, last week as a 14-party alliance led by Sheikh Hasinam, head of the Awami League, announced plans to paralyse the country through transport blockades unless commissioners were removed.

The league led alliance claims that commission officials are biased towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia, whose term as prime minister ended last month.

The Awami league has denounced government plans to deploy the army.

"The country's law and order situation has not reached a level where the army's intervention is needed," Abdul Jalil, the Awami League's general secretary, said.

"I hope our patriotic armed forces will refuse to be used for political purposes or to protect the interest of one group, at the cost of people's rights."

"We are struggling to safeguard democracy and ensure people's right to choose their government through a free, fair and credible election."

The BNP has accused the Awami League of trying to push the country into anarchy and sabotage elections due in January 2007.

Iajuddin is heading the interim administration that will run the country until the election.

The transport blockade has cut off Dhaka from the rest of the country, paralysed cities and resulted in the closure of Chittagong, Bangladesh's main seaport.

The Awami League is also threatening to boycott the election unless its demands for electoral reforms are met.

Protesters defy ban

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Dhaka despite an indefinite ban on demonstrations or rallies. Activists set fire to trains and buses, and attacked transport workers who defied the strike, leaving one man dead.

The Awami League wants to
paralyse the country

Abdul Jalil, the Awami League general secretary, said: "We have instructed our followers to paralyse the country ... including ports, buses, trains and ferries."

A driver was taken to hospital with head injuries after his bus was stoned. Vehicles were torched in several districts in the east and north of the country.

Protesters burned effigies of MA Aziz, the chief election commissioner, who has rejected calls to step down. He told reporters on Sunday that his officials are working flat out to hold the election on time.

The Awami League said the blockade had been a success and vowed to continue until election officials had been fired.

No statement has been made by Iajuddin on Awami League demands.

In October, the alliance observed a three-day nationwide demonstration during the political impasse over the selection of the 2007 electoral commissioner. The protest left 27 dead.