2 killed, 38 polling centres set on fire on eve of B'desh polls: Report

New Delhi, Jan 4, IRNA -- Renewed violence on the eve of Bangladesh's general election left at least two persons dead Saturday as opposition activists set afire 38 polling centres and a train while enforcing a 48-hour nationwide strike aimed at derailing the controversial polls.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) called the strike from this morning in a last ditch effort to scuttle the polls, which the Awami League looks set to win due to a boycott by opposition parties.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party urged voters to "fully boycott" what its chief Khaleda Zia described as a "stigmatised farce". She accused the government of keeping her under "house arrest".

An Awami League activist and a BNP worker were killed as violence erupted in parts of Bangladesh after the 18-party opposition alliance led by the BNP began enforcing the strike.

Suspected activists of BNP and its fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami set on fire 38 polling centres in several districts, including Dhaka, during a span of 12 hours. Media described the attacks on polling centres as unprecedented.

Reports said unidentified men torched makeshift polling centres, mostly housed in schools, after Zia called for protests to be intensified.

Strikers in northern Natore district set fire to a train by hurling a petrol bomb, injuring 12 passengers. The attack was followed by a clash between BNP and Awami League supporters.

The strike is in addition to an indefinite blockade of roads, railways and waterways since January 1. The opposition called the strike to intensify street protests against the polls.

Without the participation of the BNP and its allies, polling would be held in only 147 of 300 constituencies, Election Commission (EC) officials said. Candidates in the other constituencies would be declared elected unopposed.

"We have wrapped up preparations to conduct the polls on Sunday...the polling will start at 8 am and continue till 4 pm," an EC spokesman told reporters in Dhaka, pti reported. About 3,75,000 security personnel have been deployed across Bangladesh to maintain peace and nearly 50,000 army troops are on vigil to act as a "striking force", officials said.

Paramilitary forces are working with police to ensure that the vote passes off peacefully.

A total of 390 candidates, mostly from the Awami League and its ally Jatiya Party, are contesting from 147 seats where the number of voters is nearly 44 million.

BNP chief and former premier Zia, in a statement overnight, said: "No one at home and abroad will recognise it as election and through this the Awami League government will appear anew as an illegal structure...January 5 will be recognised as a black date."

She asked opposition activists and people to carry on the campaign against what she said was an "autocratic rule". Zia alleged that the government was keeping her under "house arrest" at her upmarket residence in Gulshan area of Dhaka.

The government has rejected this allegation, saying foreign envoys and senior BNP leaders have met Zia during the past few days.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch urged the Bangladesh government to end its crackdown on opposition leaders and activists, and to create conditions for free and fair polls.

Opposition parties should condemn and end violence by their supporters, which has caused hundreds of casualties, the rights body said in a statement.

Meanwhile, security along the Indo-Bangla border with Assam has been beefed up on the eve of general elections in neighbouring Bangladesh tomorrow.

Patrolling by the Border Security Force (BSF) has been intensified along the three border districts - Karimganj, Cachar and Dhubri – and the respective district administration stepped up alert, official sources said today.

Assam shares 263 km of border with Bangladesh, including 134 km stretch between Dhubri and Rangpur, 92 km between Karimganj and Sylhet and 37 km between Cachar and Sylhet.

The forces were ready to foil any intrusion bid after instigating trouble in the neighbouring country.

Election in 147 constituencies out of the total 300 will be held on Sunday. Candidates in 153 other parliamentary seats have been elected uncontested as the opposition is boycotting the elections.