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Thursday, February 25, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT

World: South Asia

Violence mars Bangladesh election

Violence did not prevent all Bangladeshis from voting

Three days of voting in municipal elections in Bangladesh are over, as is a strike called by opposition parties to disrupt the poll.

Voting took place amid sporadic violence throughout the country. Simultaneously the main cities were paralysed by the three-day anti-government general strike.

Voting was cancelled in 18 centres because of the violence.

[ image: About 400 people were injured during the violence]
About 400 people were injured during the violence
A total of seven people were reported to have died in violent clashes between government supporters and followers of opposition parties who had called for an election boycott and the strike.

Police said rival groups hurled bombs and fired gun shots at each other.

About 400 people were injured. Most of the injuries resulted from crude bombs.

Despite the violence, organisers reported a good turnout at the polls on all three days of polling.

Voting staggered

Voting in different areas was staggered over the three days with the last districts casting their votes on Thursday.

Chief Election Commissioner Mohammad Abu Hena described the polls as encouraging.

"All apprehensions have proved baseless with huge turn-out of voters," he said. Opposition parties have rejected this assessment.

"The government is lying about the elections. The voting must be cancelled," said opposition spokesman Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan.

An alliance of opposition parties has demanded the resignation of the chief election commissioner, accusing him of favouring the governing Awami League.

The strike was organised by an alliance between the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Khaleda Zia, and two other parties.

[ image: Soldiers were brought in to guard the polls]
Soldiers were brought in to guard the polls
The opposition parties also asked for voters to be issued with identity cards to prevent cheating.

Authorities introduced tight security in the polling areas, with 35,000 soldiers and police deployed at polling stations around the country.

It is the second time this month the opposition has called a national three-day stoppage. Six people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes during the strike held between 9-11 February.

There are fears that a cycle of political violence might now follow the election scenes, which has aready widened the distance between the major political parties in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi municipal elections are officially not party-political, but are regarded as a test-run for a general election due in 2001.

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