Polls started in Bangladesh; 6 killed in violence

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Bangladesh goes to polls amid violence
Dhaka, Jan 5: Voting began on Sunday morning in Bangladesh's violence-plagued general elections amid calls from opposition BNP and its allies to resist the polls, even as six persons were killed in clashes across the country.

Polling began at 8 a.m (0200 GMT) in 147 out of 300 constituencies in 59 districts of Bangladesh, officials said. Paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion forces joined hands with police on election duty as 390 candidates of mostly ruling Awami League and its ally Jatiya Party were contesting for the 147 seats where the number of voters is nearly 44,000,000.

There is no election in remaining 153 constituencies which have returned winners without a contest, as opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led 18 party alliance is boycotting the polls. Meanwhile, police said suspected opposition activists hacked to death an assistant presiding officer of a polling centre in north-western Thakurgaon while five others were killed in clashes with police across the country.

"The miscreants hacked to death (election official) Jobaidur Rahman with sharp weapons while they set on fire the polling centre using Molotov cocktails...Five policemen were also injured," police superintendent Faisal Mahmud said.

Polling began at 8 am in 147 out of 300 constituencies in 59 districts of B'desh

According to TV reports, two opposition activists were killed in clashes with police in neighbouring Rangpur while other casualties were reported from north-western Dinajpur and Nilphamari and central Gazipur. The authorities suspended polling at more than a dozen makeshift voting centes housed at schools after opposition activists set those facilities on fire.

BNP chairperson and ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia and her exiled son and party's senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman have separately issued clarion calls to boycott the polls. According to TV channels, the voters turn out was less at most of the polling stations due to tensions over the polls but election officials expected more voters later in the day as the voting would continue until 4 pm.

Officials said over 375,000 security personnel were deployed across Bangladesh to maintain peace and nearly 50,000 army troops were kept on vigil as "striking force". Opposition activists are burning down polling stations and attacking public transport in a bid to keep voters away from the polls, which they called as "farcical". At least 100 polling centres in 23 districts were torched since midnight.

The BNP-led opposition had demanded postponement of the polls and setting up of a non-party caretaker government, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected its demands. Political violence during strikes enforced by the opposition since November have left nearly 140 people dead.

PTI

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