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Page last updated at 05:08 GMT, Friday, 26 December 2008

Explosives seized in Bangladesh

A policeman stands guard at a rally addressed by Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on 25 December 2008
Elections are due to take place in Bangladesh on 29 December

Seven suspected militants with ties to a banned Islamic group in Bangladesh have been arrested with a large cache of explosives, police have said.

The raids come ahead of national elections due to take place on Monday to restore democracy to the country.

It was unclear if the explosives were to be used against polls, police said.

The election was initially scheduled for 18 December but was postponed after one of the country's two main parties said that it needed more time.

'Given names'

Police said they had carried out raids on Wednesday and Thursday in the northern Gaibandha area, about 300km (180 miles) north of Dhaka.

Officials seized grenades, explosives, batteries and books on jihad (or holy war), the Associated Press news agency quoted district police chief SM Muniruzzaman as saying.

Sheikh Hasina (l) and Khaleda Zia
Sheikh Hasina (l) and Khaleda Zia are the main contenders for power

The suspects were members of the Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB) group, he said.

"They have given some other names, we are trying to arrest them too. We're interrogating them for more information," AP quoted him as saying.

JMB has been blamed for carrying out more than 400 small bombings across Bangladesh on one day in 2005, killing two people and wounding dozens.

Bangladesh has been under emergency rule for two years now and is ruled by a military-backed interim government.

The last time Bangladesh prepared for elections, in 2006, months of strikes and street violence forced the army to step in.

The Election Commission set a new date of 29 December after one of the country's two main parties refused to participate, saying that it needed more time to prepare.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia asked for the elections to be deferred to the month of January.

Its main rival, the Awami League Party of Sheikh Hasina, said any delay would be unfair.

Both party leaders had been jailed on corruption charges by the current caretaker government.

But in a remarkable change of fortune, they were let out, and one of them now seems certain to be elected Bangladesh's prime minister before the end of the year.

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