Bangladesh opposition demands chief election official quit

Oikya Front calls for Nurul Huda's resignation, accusing him of bias as violence worsens ahead of Sunday's poll.

    At least six people have died and more than 1,000 injured since campaigning started [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]
    At least six people have died and more than 1,000 injured since campaigning started [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

    Bangladesh's main opposition alliance has demanded the resignation of the chief election commissioner, accusing him of bias as violence worsens ahead of Sunday's elections.

    Opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said on Tuesday night that they want KM Nurul Huda's resignation as they did not expect a free and fair election under him.

    He urged the country's figurehead president to appoint a "neutral person" instead.

    Alamgir, the secretary-general of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), told a news conference they made the call after senior leaders from an anti-government alliance walked out of a meeting with Huda.

    He said a meeting between leaders of the Jatiya Oikya Front and election officials failed after the opposition alliance noted instances of attacks since campaigning started on December 10.

    "But without paying heed to our allegations, the chief election commissioner spoke in a biased and discourteous way that frustrated and shocked us," he said.

    "It is impossible to get neutral behaviour let alone expecting a free, fair and neutral election under him."

    While election officials refused to speak to media about the details of the meeting, the ruling Awami League said the opposition's allegations are motivated.

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    "Their strategy of boycotting the 2014 election failed. This time, they changed their strategy and are raising unnecessary and illogical allegations against the election commission," Awami League's Mahbubul Alam Hanif told Al Jazeera.

    Rejecting the BNP's allegations, Hanif instead accused the rival party of attacking Awami League workers. "They are raising these allegations to discredit the election. We want a fair election," he said.

    Official and media tallies say more than 100 people, mostly from the BNP led by jailed former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, were injured in political violence on Tuesday.

    Supporters of the ruling Awami League and the opposition parties clashed in Dhaka, Cox's Bazar, Mymensingh, Chittagong and Sylhet districts, leading English newspaper Daily Star and domestic Jamuna Television reported.

    Election violence

    Among those injured on Tuesday were 10 journalists, who were attacked in a motel in the central Bangladesh town of Nawabganj. The Daily Star reported that about 250 opposition supporters have been arrested since Monday night.

    Meanwhile, the Oikya Front, in a statement on Tuesday, said about 7,000 opposition leaders and activists have been arrested since the election schedule was announced in November.

    Police spokesperson Sohel Rana did not confirm any figure for arrests, but said they did not make "unnecessary arrests" without warrants.  

    "We never target any individual unless they break the law. These people have specific warrants against them," he told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.

    On Monday, authorities deployed 30,000 troops across the country to work as a striking force for holding the election.

    Earlier this month, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the international community to press the Bangladesh government to create conditions for a free and fair election.

    The group criticised Bangladeshi security forces for "arresting and intimidating opposition figures and threatening freedom of expression ahead of the election".

    At least six people have been killed and more than 1,000 have been injured since December 10. Both opposition and ruling parties blame each other for the attacks, but media reports say most attacks were executed by the ruling party members and were often backed by security officials.

    Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League is seeking to return to power for a third consecutive time amid opposition allegations that the elections could be rigged. Authorities have pledged a free and fair election.

    The BNP is the main partner of the newly formed anti-government alliance, Oikya Front.

    Kamal Hossain, a prominent lawyer and former foreign minister, is leading the alliance after Zia was disqualified by a court because she is serving prison terms for corruption.

    SOURCE: News agencies