Violence overshadows Bangladesh national poll

At least 19 people killed and many polling stations attacked in general elections boycotted by the opposition.

    Violence has marred controversial general elections in Bangladesh, leaving at least 19 people dead in clashes between opposition supporters and police.

    Thousands of protesters firebombed polling stations and stole ballot papers as deadly violence flared across the South Asian nation during Sunday's election, which was boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies.

    Polls closed at 4pm (1000 GMT) after eight hours of voting and final results were expected in the early hours of Monday morning, although the ruling Awami League was certain to remain in power, with less than half of 300 parliamentary constituencies in play.

    Police said more than 200 polling stations were set on fire or trashed by mobs, and there were reportedly no queues to vote at some stations, while others were sparsely attended.

    The BNP had been protesting against the decision by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed to scrap the practice of having a neutral caretaker government oversee elections.

    Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull, reporting from Dhaka, said: "The government did everything it could to bring the opposition on board, and blames the opposition entirely for the violence. The opposition, on the other hand, says it will accept nothing less than a neutral caretaker body and this government to step aside."

    Low turnout

    With the opposition trying to enforce a general strike as part of a strategy to wreck the poll, government officials acknowledged the turnout was significantly lower than usual.

    "The turnout was low, partly due to the boycott by many parties," Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, the election commission head, said without immediately providing a figure.

    Two of those killed on Sunday were beaten to death while guarding polling stations in northern districts, which bore the brunt of the violence, and thousands of ballot papers were ceremoniously set on fire.

    Other opposition activists were shot by police, who cited a "coordinated attack" by protesters armed with guns and small bombs.

    Tens of thousands of troops were deployed across the country after escalating violence in the run-up to the vote, but they could not contain the bloodshed.

    Many fear that the election will lead to an intensification of violence in Bangladesh, after the bloodiest year of unrest since the country broke free from Pakistan in 1971.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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