Jan 5, 2014, 4:43 PM
News Code: 80980969
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19 killed in Bangladesh elections hit by opposition boycott

New Delhi, Jan 5, IRNA -- Deadly clashes and a low turnout Sunday marred Bangladesh's general election boycotted by opposition parties and described by the international community as flawed, even as 19 people were killed and over 200 polling stations torched in poll-related violence.

Most voters preferred to stay at home fearing violence during the polling in 147 out of 300 constituencies in 59 districts. Candidates in other constituencies would be declared elected unopposed due to the boycott, pti quoted officials as saying. A total of 390 candidates, mostly from the Awami League and its ally Jatiya Party, contested from 147 seats where the number of voters was nearly 44 million.

Deadly violence flared across the country despite tens of thousands of security personnel deployed to maintain law and order.

Protesters hurled crude bombs at polling centres and stole ballot papers during the "one-sided" contest boycotted by the 18-party opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The Awami League is all set for a sweeping victory.

Police said 16 people, mostly opposition cadres, and a security personnel were killed today after the overnight deaths of an election officer and two others.

The Election Commission is yet to announce the turnout.

Voting was suspended at 160 centres due to torching of booths and snatching of ballot boxes and papers. Opposition activists set over 200 polling stations on fire.

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 the demands. Political violence during strikes enforced by the opposition since November have left over 150 people dead.

The counting of votes started soon after polling ended at 1600 hours local time.

Earlier, BNP chief Khaleda Zia and her exiled son, party senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman, separately issued calls to boycott the polls.

Zia has been virtually under house arrest since late last month, with no one allowed to either enter or exit her Dhaka residence that has been encircled by security forces.

India, closely watching political developments in the neighbouring country, has expressed hope that the people of Bangladesh would overcome their differences through peaceful means.

A similar poll in 1996, boycotted by the then opposition Awami League, witnessed a mere 7 per cent turnout and forced Zia-led BNP government to call for fresh polls within months under a neutral non-party caretaker system.