Polls open in Bangladesh parliamentary election

Tens of millions of Bangladeshis began streaming to the polls early on Monday for an election that returns the country to democracy after two years of emergency rule.

Polls open in Bangladesh parliamentary election
An alliance led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League has the edge in the vote for members of parliament, most observers say. Others predict neither she nor rival and fellow ex-PM Begum Khaleda Zia will have an immediate majority.

The impoverished Muslim South Asian nation has more than 140 million.

The outgoing army-backed government -- which took over amidst such violence in January 2007 and cancelled an election due that month -- says that at least when it comes to voting procedure and safety, this time things will be different.

At polling stations in the capital Dhaka, hundreds of people queued for more than an hour before the voting started at 8 a.m. (0200 GMT).

Much of the country was covered in thick fog on Monday morning, which could slow voter turnout in rural areas.

"There is no lack of enthusiasm," Mohammad Jahangir, a rural council chairman in eastern Brahmanbaria district, told Reuters by telephone. "Security has been tight with police guarding the polling centres since Sunday night."

Bangladesh has deployed 50,000 troops, 75,000 police and 6,000 members of its elite Rapid Action Battalion along with other auxiliary forces for security.

"In some sensitive areas we have also kept bomb disposal squads on standby," a senior police officer said on Monday, declining to specify the locations.

About 200,000 local and 2,000 foreign monitors will be at the polling centres to check procedures.

The latter include first-time-ever anti-cheating measures like picture ID cards for the 81 million eligible voters.

Hasina and Khaleda alternated in power for 15 years through 2006. Critics say they barely dented Bangladesh's problems, in a large measure because their parties took to the streets in protest and strikes when out of office.

Polls close at 4 p.m. (1000 GMT). Counting begins on Monday evening but results are not expected until Tuesday.

Last Mod: 29 Aralık 2008, 09:19
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