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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 14:07 GMT
Army to 'stop election violence'
Bangladeshi soldier
The army has been ordered to stop the Awami League blockade
The caretaker government of Bangladesh has announced that the army will be deployed to prevent political protests.

The announcement follows the decision on Wednesday by the alliance of parties led by the Awami League to boycott the elections due later this month.

The Awami League said the vote would not be free and fair.

Home Ministry officials warned that the military would be used to prevent the opposition's planned national transport blockade on Sunday and Monday.

'Crucial point'

"No siege will be allowed" and the authorities would not protect those seeking to "defy the constitution", the official BSS news agency quoted a Home Ministry official as saying.

"Law enforcement agencies and the armed forces would be called out in aid of the civil administration to take control of the streets ahead of the siege to maintain order," the report added.

Supporters of the Awami League and its allies
More protests are planned

It is not the first time that the military has been deployed: on 9 December, President Iajuddin Ahmed ordered the army onto the streets after the opposition threatened to hold indefinite nationwide protests.

Analysts say that the country has now reached a critical juncture. Despite months of violent opposition demonstrations, the caretaker government insists the vote will still go ahead, with or without Awami League participation.

"We think we have reached a crucial point. What will be or will not be, but we want to have the elections by 22 January," Shaifqul Haque, a member of the interim government's advisory council, told the AFP news agency.

Under the constitution the caretaker government - which will oversee the vote - must ensure that polling takes place within 90 days of its assumption of power on 29 October.

'Biased'

Figures released by the election commission show that 2,370 out of 4,146 candidates withdrew their nomination papers on Wednesday, hours before a deadline for withdrawals.

Most belonged to the Awami League and its allies.

Correspondents say that Bangladesh now faces the prospect of more clashes on the streets between rival sets of supporters, more strikes, more business uncertainty and the possibility of food shortages in urban areas because of the opposition blockade.

Supporters of the Awami League say that it is more important to have elections that are credible than it is to have elections that are held on time.

They have demanded a string of reforms which they say are needed to ensure a free and fair vote, including the removal of election officials "biased" in favour of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which left power in October, and an updated voters' list.

The political bloc led by the BNP has rejected the allegations, accusing the Awami League of "sensing defeat" and being determined to sabotage the elections.

About 40 people have been killed in political violence since the caretaker government assumed power in October.


SEE ALSO
Poll boycott called in Bangladesh
03 Jan 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh parties in poll U-turn
24 Dec 06 |  South Asia
Bangladesh vote official departs
20 Dec 06 |  South Asia
Dhaka crowds demand poll reforms
18 Dec 06 |  South Asia
Bangladesh poll chief stands down
22 Nov 06 |  South Asia
Fifty hurt in Bangladesh clashes
20 Nov 06 |  South Asia
Bangladesh approaches zero hour
05 Oct 06 |  South Asia

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