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Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Bangladesh awaits election result

Security personnel guard polling boxes in Dhaka, Bangladesh - 28/12/2008
Strikes and violent protests have marked Bangladeshi politics

Polls have closed in Bangladesh in an election held amid tight security that will replace the interim government after two years of army-backed rule.

About 50,000 soldiers and 600,000 police were deployed to guard against election fraud and violence.

The Election Commission hopes to announce results in the next few hours.

The frontrunners, the Awami League of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have ruled Bangladesh for years.

Both leaders were jailed for suspected corruption but released to contest the vote.

Perhaps we have taken the toughest-ever security precautions to ensure that balloting takes place peacefully
Noor Mohammad
Police inspector general

The two rivals pledged to lower food prices, and to tackle corruption and terrorism in the nation of 144 million people.

Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia also both promised to end the confrontation, strikes and violent street rallies that have marked Bangladeshi politics for years. The two women alternated in power for 15 years until 2006.

Polls closed at 1600 local time (1000 GMT) but many voters were still waiting in line and election officials said those still inside polling stations would be able to cast ballots.

Observers say there may be no clear winner in parliament.

Anti-corruption drive

Long queues formed as Bangladeshis began to vote at the country's 35,000 heavily guarded polling stations.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in the capital, Dhaka, said the mood at the polling station he visited - at Dhaka University - was festive, with a lot of enthusiasm to see the end of the military-backed government.

No serious violence was reported.

Sheikh Hasina (L) and Khaleda Zia cast ballots in Dhaka
Sheikh Hasina (L) and Khaleda Zia cast ballots in Dhaka

Sheikh Hasina cast her vote shortly after polling started.

"We have waited so long... but [are] feeling good the election is held at last," she said.

Khaleda Zia voted in the capital some time later.

She said: "If the polling is free and fair, I am sure we will win a two-thirds majority like in 2001. I am ready to accept the results if the election is free and fair."

Some 200,000 electoral observers, including 2,500 from abroad, were monitoring the national vote.

Noor Mohammad, the Inspector General of Police, said: "Perhaps we have taken the toughest-ever security precautions to ensure that balloting takes place peacefully, free from rigging, intimidation and threats."

The army cancelled elections due in January 2007 after months of street protests and battles between gangs of rival party supporters spiralled out of control.

The army-backed caretaker government then tried to root out corruption from the country's elites.

Our correspondent says the newly-empowered Anti-Corruption Commission sought to prosecute the top politicians and businessmen who had earned Bangladesh its reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries.

More than 11 million phoney names were purged from the voter roll, which now numbers about 81 million people.

A simple majority of the parliament's 300 seats is enough to secure victory, but analysts say no clear winner may emerge, leading to fears of unrest if supporters of the rival parties take to the streets.

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